An American-Irish lad’s efforts to leave Ireland circa 1979 is the springboard for some tart comedy and uneven drama in “Turning Green.” Pic is notable on two counts: As one of the few runners-up in a Project Greenlight contest to actually get made, and as a film that feels thoroughly Irish yet is authored by young indie Yanks. With topline thesps Alessandro Nivola, Timothy Hutton and Colm Meaney as strong support for impressive Irish newcomer Donal Gallery, take will earn support for modest theatrical play and good cable jaunts.
Gallery’s jaded James undercuts picture postcard views of the Emerald Isle with caustic voice-over comments that conclude that the place is basically “a shitty little island.”
Sent by their ne’er-do-well widower dad from their native U.S. to live in Ireland with their dreary old aunts, James and younger brother Pete (Killian Morgan) do everything they can to raise cash for return tickets.
Brazenly atheistic in front of his aunts (the brilliantly dry trio of Billie Traynor, Deirdre Monaghan and Brid Ni Chionaola) and the local priest, James gives moral support to drunk gambler Tom (Meaney).
As one of the meanings of its title suggests, “Turning Green” is partly a fable on how an American can inject some entrepreneurial spirit into a community of Irishmen. Like moneymakers before him, James takes advantage of the law of supply and demand: With porn magazines banned in Ireland, he buys a stock of them from Brit sellers and sells them to willing male customers, even getting the cops in on a bit of the action. Before long, James, with Pete, has a real business going.
At this point, “Turning Green” shifts from a generally jolly, frisky tone toward more threatening moods, as crooks Bill the Bookie (Nivola) and his thuggish enforcer, Bill the Breaker (a nearly unrecognizable Hutton) get wind of James’ action.
Tyro co-helmers-writers Michael Aimette and John G. Hofmann don’t seem to entirely believe in their own plotting devices, however, and the confrontation between James and the seasoned crooks plays as routine and phony where everything leading up to it feels empowered and alive.
Still, Nivola makes an astounding left turn from his nice husband role in “Junebug” and Hutton loses himself in the sort of part fit for a Walter Hill film. Meaney makes less of an impression, but Gallery steals the show with well-judged perf that grasps the full potential of an irreverent hero.
Hi-def lensing by Tim Fleming is perhaps almost too pretty to fit James’ dour view of the place. Production package makes for a handsomer pic than any of the Project Greenlight winners to date.