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Toronto Film Review: ‘Life’s a Breeze’

'Kisses' director Lance Daly delivers another modest, character-driven fable.

With:
Fionnula Flanagan, Pat Shortt, Kelly Thornton, Eva Birthistle.

A family fortune goes missing, tucked away inside a discarded old mattress in “Life’s a Breeze,” another modest, character-driven fable from Irish director Lance Daly, whose crowd-pleasing “Kisses” played Toronto in 2008. After fumbling an attempt at an American thriller with “The Good Doctor,” the helmer is back on familiar turf, studying the way relatable folks behave in heightened situations. Inspired by an Israeli human-interest story, Daly relocates the curious incident to Dublin, bringing all the excitement of a blockbuster treasure-hunt movie to his own backyard, while preserving the easy universal appeal of this inevitably tiny picture in the process.

Just where do old mattresses go once they’ve been discarded, and how would concerned parties manage to track one down? It takes a special kind of imagination to recognize the entertainment potential trapped in such a mundane scenario, and an incredibly resourceful filmmaker to spin it into as much fun as Daly does here.

Beginning with a group of characters who’d be right at home in a Ken Loach movie, “Life’s a Breeze” concerns three generations of borderline-broke Dubliners. Young Emma (Kelly Thornton) serves as the pic’s eyes and ears, enlisted by thick-headed uncle Colm (Pat Shortt) to get Nan (Fionnula Flanagan) out of her cluttered flat one afternoon. The old lady is a bit of a hoarder, and her well-meaning kids plan a surprise makeover for her birthday. When Nan returns, however, she’s horrified to discover that her stash of nearly a million Euros has been thrown out along with decades of newspapers, mildewing detective novels and creaky old furniture.

At first, the family refuses to believe that she’s telling the truth. How could Nan have saved so much money? But all three of her kids are scraping by on the dole, and once the idea that their inheritance is on the line, they spring into action, beginning a scavenger hunt that takes them from dumping grounds to recycling depots to landfills all over the region, eventually ballooning into a national news story, as total strangers compete to see who can find the mattress first.

Daly’s lucky to have as shrewd an actress as Flanagan at the center of such a project, relying on her ability to play cards close to her vest. While her generally dim-witted kids trip over their own plans to recover the loot, auds can never be entirely sure that she’s actually telling the truth. Certainly, the situation reveals plenty about the personalities of all involved, paying careful attention to the way fickle souls change the instant they believe there’s a fortune coming their way.

Running a fleet 83 minutes, the pic clips along briskly, but has a frustrating habit of allowing the audience to keep a few steps ahead of its characters throughout. Colm proves especially slow on the uptake, and though the film enjoys a few laughs at his expense, one can only imagine the trouble he’d get into if he actually had a million Euros at his disposal. Production values are fine, if suitably grubby-looking at times, with all the sitcom activity inexplicably framed as wide as the screen will allow.

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Toronto Film Review: 'Life's a Breeze'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 10, 2013. Running time: 83 MIN.

Production: (Ireland-Sweden) A Fastnet Films production in association with the Irish Film Board in co-production with Anagram Prods., Swedish Film Institute, Satana, Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. (International sales: Magnolia Pictures, New York.) Produced by Macdara Kelleher, Martin Persson. Executive producer, Jessica Ask.

Crew: Directed, written by Lance Daly. Camera (color, widescreen), Daly; editor, Shimmy Marcus; music, Daly, Declan Quinn, Eugene Quinn; production designer, Waldemar Kalinowski; art director, Mark Kelly; Emma Lowney, Christian Olander; costume designer, Anna Agren; sound (Dolby Digital), Rob Flanagan; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Kieran Lynch; stunt coordinator, Gee Nagys; assistant director, James Velasquez; casting, Nick McGinley, McCarthy.

With: Fionnula Flanagan, Pat Shortt, Kelly Thornton, Eva Birthistle.

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