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The Closer You Get

Review by Elias Savada
Posted 17 March 2000

Directed by Aileen Ritchie.

Starring Niamh Cusack, 
Sean McGinley, Ian Hart, 
Ewan Stewart, Sean McDonagh, 
Cathleen Bradley, and Pat Shortt.

Written by William Ivory, 
based on a story by
Herbie Wave.

This small, quaint comedy offers up a half-baked fantasy in a lush back-village setting. Itís an amiable, unremarkable ninety-two minutes of wacky, dimwitted characters, but nowhere near as much fun as Waking Ned Devine, one of the more delicious Emerald Isle imports to arrive on American shores over the last few years. If the late Jim Varney had somehow ending up in the remote seaside town of Donegal, this is the kind of quirky film he might end up doing: Ernest, Far and Away, in Ireland. Freshman feature director Aileen Ritchie and first time scripter William Ivory have molded together a fishing community of simpleminded, lovelorn bachelors who seek instant marriage and imagined rapture (not to mention a good pint of stout) through a drunk/lunk-headed appeal for exotic (i.e. American) twenty-something mail-order brides. The Guinness crowd, blind to the engaging local ladies, get a mild case of comeuppance when the women learn of their men-folkís prankish behavior.

A more seasoned director might have managed a better job with the under-developed script. The picture doesnít feel terribly cohesive, something that might have been tackled better by a different Ritchie (Michael), a great cinematic essayist back in the early 1970s with the ever-watchable Smile. Instead featherweight Ritchie (Aileen), whose background is in the theater, lets the actors roam the craggy landscape much as they might a stage. Producer Uberto Pasolini, who also produced the wildly popular The Full Monty and the generally unseen yet enjoyable sleeper Palookaville with first time directors, made a calculated decision in going with someone who "focuses on the subtlety of the relationship and how they work" according to one of the stars. The result is a sweet-natured film -- light-headed Blarney corn.

The story is set up when the intended screening of The Ten Commandments at the local parish goes awry, inadvertently projecting a mis-delivered print of Ten -- apparently starting on the wrong reel no less -- with Bo(dacious) Derek prancing about in slow motion on a Mexican beach. Celibate Father Mallone (Risteard Cooper) puts a stop to the show (he manages to sneak a peek in private later), forcing the testosterone-starved males to commiserate at the local pub, owned by philandering Pat (Ewan Stewart), a former soccer star, and his wife Kate (Niamh Cusack). The desperate men on the other side of the counter down a few glasses and dream of meeting the stunning Derek, then devise an outlandish plan to place a want ad for comparable female companions in some of the larger Irish newspapers, until they amusingly opt to submit the personal instead to The Miami Herald after a copy of Playboy suggests thatís where the action (and gene pool) is.

Who are these men to plot such a boorish scheme? Town butcher Kieran OíDonnell (Ian Hart) holds most the screen time among the ensemble cast, as a foppish, would-be lady-killer who peroxides his hair in hopes of hiding his simple looks and winning over one the American beauties. Heís clueless that love is right under his nose -- must be those meat carcasses gumming up his olfactory senses. Thereís also his mild mannered older brother Ian, a shy sheep farmer with the only obvious fixation for one of the local lasses and a huge inability to express himself. Eighteen-year-old Sean (Sean McDonagh) is smart enough to realize that thereís a whole world to explore outside of Donegal. His pal Ollie (Pat Shortt) is a thirty-six-year-old virgin afraid he will malfunction on his wedding night. His efforts in finding sex are abortive until he rapturously explains to Seanís mother Mary (Ruth McCabe), the postmistress, why she must release some pornographic literature to him. These sad excuses for men all hide in bushes and behind rocks, their hopes dashed every day as the daily bus arrives, empty.

Meanwhile the eligible women of the town decide to mute the male trumpets and play their own tune of seduction, with Siobhan (Cathleen Bradley), Kieranís meat-cutting assistant, rallying the troopettes and laying her own wily traps for her unappreciative boss. While the menís want ad goes unanswered in time for an annual village dance, the women have brought in their own "talent," some Spanish seamen, recently docked, that inspire puckish frolicking and jealous fistfights.

Thereís not a heck of a lot to suggest you wander into The Closer You Get. Thereís plenty better and plenty worse. If you're curious to see self-respect run amok in the Irish countryside, catch a cheap matinee or wait for the video.


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