Film Review: ‘Rosie’

Dublin’s housing crisis renders a working-class family temporarily homeless in this tense dramatic miniature penned by Roddy Doyle.

Toronto Film Festival

Various factors have set housing costs skyrocketing in many major cities worldwide, creating numerous problems — not least the increasing forcing-out of native residents in favor of better-heeled newcomers. Penned by Irish novelist Roddy Doyle, “Rosie” offers a microcosm of that crisis in Dublin, as a working-class family finds itself literally (if hopefully just temporarily) homeless.

The excruciating difficulties of being stuck in a car with four restless children all day, and no certainty of proper beds at night, are made all too vivid in this drama set over one 36-hour period. It’s not an experience many viewers will want to share, even vicariously, and the lack of star names will further limit commercial prospects. Still, Paddy Breathnach’s film is an admirable distillation of a jam happening to more and more people who never imagined being in such straits — and who, until recently, would have scarcely been at risk of it.

Rosie Davis (stage actress Sarah Greene, best known outside the U.K. for TV series “Penny Dreadful”) is the managing type, more than sufficiently equipped to handle her demanding household, whose junior residents range from toddler to teenager. She’s got a devoted husband in John Paul (Moe Dunford), but he’s away at a restaurant job most of the day, and his modest wages can’t compete in the brutal housing market they’ve been plunged into since having to leave their longtime abode two weeks ago. With four kids, they’re too large a group to crash at any friend’s place. Rosie’s mother might help, but the two have been estranged over unspecified abuse allegations related to her late husband, which grandma won’t accept and Rosie refuses to back down from.

That leaves this brood in an impossible situation, stuck with their belongings in the car all day, every day. The three older kids at least get out to go to school, but they’re still each acting out the strain in different ways: Lone son Alfie (Darragh Mckenzie) is all pent-up energy; Millie (Ruby Dunne) keeps claiming she’s sick; eldest Kayleigh (Ellie O’Halloran) is throwing a colossal sulk. Only little Madison (Molly McCann) is young enough to take it all in stride, more or less — unless she’s in need of a bathroom, which is one more thing that is now always a logistical problem.

Adding to their woes is the fact that Rosie seldom has time to look for a new long-term home. Instead, she must spend an inordinate amount of each day calling a long list of local motels ostensibly willing to accept government vouchers for temporary housing. Even when she does find a vacancy, it’s usually just for a single night — forcing them to cram into one room, unpack all their belongings, then pack up again the next morning.

It’s an almost unendurable circumstance already, made even worse by two crises. First, Kayleigh doesn’t show up after school as usual, failing to answer her phone and triggering a panicked search. Next, the inevitable moment arrives when there are no motel rooms to be had, period, and the family of six must spend a night in the car.

Such unpleasant domestic emergencies are seldom dwelt on in movies, and when they are, it’s often to comic effect. But there’s nothing funny about them in real life. “Rosie” captures the exhausting stress of a collective life out of control through no fault of its own; the title figure keeps muttering “Sorry” over her flashes of fraying temper, though in truth, it’s remarkable she maintains her grip as well as she does.

Greene’s everyday Mother Courage is the dominant figure here, but this is really a tight ensemble piece, and Breathnach does a fine job handling the child as well as adult performers. In terms of style, the movie has a hand-held, often claustrophobic immediacy that is effectively tense rather than wearing — we very much feel how habitable space constricts around this address-free family until they can hardly breathe. Yes, their love for one another may well see them through it. But this small, tough film provides no easy solutions.

Film Review: ‘Rosie’

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 7, 2018. Running time: <strong>86 MIN.</strong>

  • Production: (Ireland) An Element Pictures production, in association with Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland, Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, RTÉ. (Int'l sales: Protagonist Pictures, London.) Producers: Emma Norton, Rory Gilmartin, Juliette Bonass. Executive producers: Ed Guiney, Andrew Lowe, Roddy Doyle, Dearbhla Regan.
  • Crew: Director: Paddy Breathnach. Screenplay: Roddy Doyle. Camera (color, HD): Cathal Watters. Editor: Una Ni Dhonghaile. Music: Stephen Rennicks.
  • With: Sarah Greene, Moe Dunford, Ellie O’Halloran, Ruby Dunne, Darragh McKenzie, Molly McCann.