Culled from the same literary origins as “The Commitments,” Stephen Frears’ “The Snapper” is a lively, likable slice of Dublin working-class comedy that could bite off small-scale theatrical returns with good reviews and strategic playoff.
The made-for-TV pic, scheduled to open this year’s Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, aired April 4 on British pubcaster BBC’s minority channel BBC2, as the last of its current season of “Screen Two” offerings.
Colm Meaney, who was also in the Alan Parker opus, plays the head of a clan who’s floored by eldest daughter Tina Kellegher’s announcement that she’s in the family way. Catch is that she won’t reveal the name of the “snapper’s” papa.
Just when Meaney has wrapped his brain around the news and decided to adopt a mature attitude, word slips out that the father is a married neighbor (Pat Laffan) who is the dad of one of Kellegher’s female drinking buddies.
Laffan decides to disappear for a spell, and all hell breaks loose among the tight-knit community. Kellegher’s assertion that the father was actually a Spanish sailor calms things down, even though no one believes her.
Smoothly adapted by Dublin author Roddy Doyle from the second of his “Barrytown trilogy” (named after the Dublin suburb) and, in theory focused on the same central family as in “Commitments” (the Rabbittes, here rechristened the Curleys), pic is markedly different in content, feel and style to Parker’s slick, big-screen movie. To all intents and purposes, this is an unrelated production.
Frears’ rougher, Brit TV drama helming, though fine for the tube, concentrates more on character comedy and lacks the dramatic and emotional highs of the earlier film, with its exhilarating musical content. Only music here is an uncredited rendering of the song “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” over the front and end crawls.
Still, the pic marks out its own territory and plays well within it. There’s plenty of unvarnished, off-the-wall Irish humor, especially in the ensemble scenes of family life and boozy barroom chat, plus real warmth beneath the rough one-liners.
Doyle draws a portrait of northside Dublin life that’s ready at any moment to tip over into violence and retribution. Sans the light comic approach, this would be heavy-duty social drama.
As the Dublin paterfamilias trying desperately to be a New Man, Meaney doesn’t quite have the weight to carry such a busy pic, despite plenty of huffing and puffing. But he pairs well with Kellegher, strong as the independent daughter, tough as nails for a 20-year-old.
Casting and playing are uniformly tops, with special praise for Fionnuala Murphy as Kellegher’s best pal, Ruth McCabe as the quiet, long-suffering mom, and the five kids as her loopy brothers and sisters.
Oliver Stapleton’s 16mm lensing is no-frills, and editing by Mick Audsley is tight and neat all the way. Language is much less slangy and gutter-talk than that in “The Commitments,” but still plenty salty.