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Intermission (2003)


Intermission, a gritty ensemble comedy about a bunch of gritty Irish folk, bears some resemblance to late-nineties indie crimedies like Trainspotting, Go, and Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, and fans of those movies should certainly check this one out – it’s practically made for those ‘if you liked [that], check out [this]’ shelves at the video store.

What Intermission resembles just as handily, though, is an Irish Love Actually, which is to say it’s like Love Actually with a lot more drinking and violence. This is unlikely to placate anyone who truly hated Love Actually and, as such, would require something on the order of a soccer riot to feel fully cleansed. But if you (like me) merely thought a few of those charmingly stammering Englishmen could use a good deck, Intermission is the punch-throwing, rock-chucking romantic comedy for you.

Yes, romantic comedy. The occasion for this low-key mayhem is, in most cases, loneliness. John (Cillian Murphy) breaks up with Deirdre (Kelly Macdonald), who takes up with Sam (Michael McElhatton), an older man who has left his wife Noeleen (Deirdre O’Kane), who seeks to feel attractive again. Also, Deirdre’s sister Sally (the appealingly surly Shirley Henderson) is depressed after her last relationship ended horribly (naturally, it sounds sort of hilarious when we hear about it secondhand), and defiantly nurses her growing facial hair.

Explaining the ins and outs of these relationships (and there are several characters I haven’t mentioned), I’m at a loss as how for how to account for the subplot about a blowhard cop (dependably unlikable Colm Meaney) and the ambitious TV producer (Tom O’Sullivan) striking an awkward alliance. It’s a useful means of tying these storylines together, I suppose, and provides some chuckles, but its lack of thematic connection to the rest of material, and its minor (yet heavy-handed) satire of television documentaries bear little post-movie scrutiny.

A lot of Intermission is like that: Entertaining as it goes along, leaving you wanting more of this (the offbeat, offhand humor), less of that (the male characters’ haplessness), satisfied but not elated. Yet strictly in terms of storytelling, the constant cross-cutting works; you’re out the door before you have much of a chance to suss out which subplots didn’t pay off.

Accordingly, it’s hard to tell how much of the picture’s considerable charm is based in shrewd organization by newcomer John Crowley or just an eye for casting; Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later) and Kelly Macdonald aren’t playing particularly likable or interesting characters, but we like them anyway. Mark O’Rowe’s script is generous with funny details, like the way the contents of a botched petty theft quietly turn into a minor culinary trend. And I’m grateful to the filmmakers for not creating any of the precious small-town eccentrics that so many post-Waking Ned Devine British comedies cling to for dear life.

Which reminds me: Colin Farrell is in this, too, returning to his native Ireland with gusto as Lehiff, a petty, heartless crook with ties to several of the main characters. Farrell has no trouble with the kinds of roles Tom Cruise used to take in the eighties, but he’s a lot more fun on the opposite side of the law. Adorned with gold chains and looking like he tore his sweater from Bill Cosby’s back, Farrell muscles through Intermission as the movie’s loveless id, the only character without any sort of maudlin streak. His Lehiff isn’t as frightening or funny as, say, Trainspotting‘s irrepressibly psychotic Begbie, but he gets the movie’s first – and possibly its most memorable – scene all to himself. From that propulsive opening to his goofy crooning of ‘I Fought the Law’ over the closing credits (it’s also on the soundtrack), Farrell chases his heroic roles out of the room — and the twee out of Ireland.

Up the beatdown on DVD, with deleted scenes rounding out the disc.

Time out… for a Harp!