‘A Bump Along the Way’: Film Review

This likable Irish mother-daughter comedy is sometimes genuinely perceptive and sometimes pat, with superb leads as its consistent anchor.

Shelly Love
Bronagh Gallagher, Lola Petticrew, Mary Moulds

Running time: 95 MIN.

While “Derry Girls” continues to be the last word in young, raucous female rebellion on the Emerald Isle, “A Bump Along the Way” has a little something to add. Set in the same Northern Irish city as the hit Netflix sitcom, but shedding the ’90s nostalgia for the Snapchat age, Shelly Love’s appealing, unassuming debut feature is a bright reminder that while Derry girls may grow up, they don’t entirely grow out of their antics. Tracing the up-and-down relationship between insecure “15-going-on-50” highschooler Allegra (Lola Petticrew) and her single mother Pam (Bronagh Gallagher), a persistent party girl stunned to find herself pregnant in her mid-forties, Love’s film skirts televisual territory in its cozy, visually flat comedy of clashing sensibilities. Yet the more sharply empathetic insights of Tess McGowan’s screenplay do poke through the cheer, gently handling subjects ranging from patriarchal neglect to adolescent bullying.

This year’s Santa Barbara festival opener, “A Bump Along the Way” built a quiet fest-circuit profile for itself in 2019, winning first on turf at the Galway Film Fleadh before making its international premiere in Toronto’s Discovery program. A small U.K. release followed, as did a newcomer citation for Love at the British Independent Film Awards, but this is a cross-generational charmer likeliest to find its following on streaming platforms. With any luck, it may also be remembered as a highly auspicious big-screen arrival for young Irish star Petticrew, who brings tenderly bruised authenticity to a character who could have been played merely as a standard collection of teen anxieties; her flinty chemistry with reliable pro Gallagher keeps things on track even when proceedings veer into more predictable hugging and learning.

Popular on Variety

Gallagher, too, brings layers of self-awareness and defiance to a potentially blowsy comic caricature. A happily single free spirit who doesn’t see maternal duty as a barrier to a good time, Pam could easily be a vision of the “Derry Girls” squad’s future: We meet her on the evening of her boozy 44th birthday celebration, having snuck away from the night’s revelry for a cheeky one-night stand with 24-year-old plumber Barry (Andy Doherty). Allegra, a clean-living vegan who makes no effort to mask her contempt for Pam’s life choices, is unsympathetic to the next morning’s crushing hangover; she’s even less impressed weeks later when, despite doctors having long pronounced her infertile, Pam finds that she’s been knocked up.

“You have more sense, more experience, you’re financially better off,” says a gynaecologist, listing the supposed advantages of a (gasp) “geriatric pregnancy”: Clearly he hasn’t known Pam, a part-time bakery worker, for long. Barry runs a mile when she delivers the news, as did Allegra’s boorish father Kieran (Gerard Jordan) years before: “I never signed up for any of this,” he whines when Pam presses him for child support. Between chuckles, McGowan’s script paints a caustic picture of a misogynistic Catholic culture in which, for unmarried women, childbirth is very much a one-way street.

Fueled by the untested moral righteousness of many a teen, Allegra is still too naive to see this inequality for herself. Pending an imminent realization of how cruelly society can judge women for imperfect behavior, she too blames her mother unreservedly for everything from her meager income to her unwanted pregnancy. “A Bump Along the Way” is pleasingly, perceptively mature in its articulation of the give-and-take between mother and daughter, neither of whom knows best all the time. Whether it’s Pam quietly one-upping Allegra on the correct pronunciation of “quinoa,” or both women tacitly confessing to graver errors of judgment, the film’s best scenes feel rooted in genuine observation of parenthood, not just engineered around cute life lessons.

It’s a pity, then, that the film’s drama tends to peter out just as it threatens to get truly abrasive. Too many challenging confrontations are cut short, resolved by loaded glances or politely hasty scene transitions that — particularly in the film’s less convincingly performed classroom sections — lend proceedings the air of an after-school special. The two excellent leads do much to fill in the unspoken gaps, while Love (who herself became a mother in her forties) directs with palpable emotional investment in the material, steering a fine ensemble with wit and care. If the film’s formal flourishes are few and far between, an ambient, occasionally discordant score by electronic artist Die Hexen represents the most surprising stylistic element here.

'A Bump Along the Way': Film Review

Reviewed online, Jan. 16, 2020. (In Santa Barbara Film Festival — opener. Also in Toronto Film Festival — Discovery.) Running time: 95 MIN.

Production: (U.K.) A Northern Ireland Screen presentation of a Gallagher Films production in association with Yellowmoon. (Int'l sales: Great Point Media, London.) Producer: Louise Gallagher. Executive producer: Roma Downey.

Crew: Director: Shelly Love. Screenplay: Tess McGowan. Camera (color, HD): Mark McCauley. Editor: Helen Sheridan. Music: Die Hexen.

With: Bronagh Gallagher, Lola Petticrew, Mary Moulds, Andy Doherty, Zara Devlin, Dan Gordon, Paddy C. Courtney, Gerard Jordan, Meghan Reid, Dylan Reid.

More Film

  • Heavy Security at Cannes Film Festival

    Coronavirus in Cannes? Festival Monitoring 'Carefully' as First Case Confirmed

    The Cannes Film Festival has addressed the spread of coronavirus in Europe, mere hours after news broke on Friday of Cannes’ first case. “The Festival de Cannes is monitoring carefully the developments and the latest guidelines provided by the local, national and international authorities regarding the coronavirus, and is in direct link with the Alpes-Maritimes’ [...]

  • No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No

    Think Cinema Lausanne's Vincent Perez on Why We Create Art

    In 2018, Swiss actor-director Vincent Perez teamed up with the Cinémathèque Suisse, the country’s premiere film archive, to launch a heritage film festival in the actor’s hometown of Lausanne. For its first edition, the event ran under the title r7al – the Rencontres 7e Art Lausanne – and was rebranded Think Cinema Lausanne the following [...]

  • 'Charlatan' Review: Agnieszka Holland Shows Faith

    'Charlatan': Film Review

    At several points in “Charlatan,” the camera looks glossily on as our protagonist holds small bottles of amber liquid to the light, academically scrutinizing their contents as they beam a light golden glow onto his features: an effect both ennobling and almost romantic. The man is Jan Mikolášek, a famous Czech herbalist and healer with [...]

  • Toho Cinemas at Tokyo Midtown Hibiya

    Japanese Cinemas To Refund Tickets in Virus Response

    In response to the coronavirus crisis, the Japanese film industry has begun to delay releases, close theaters and refund ticket purchases. The releases of the new “Doraemon” and “Jimaro” feature animations targeted at kids out of school for the spring break, have been delayed. The former was scheduled to open March 6, the latter on [...]

  • Blood on Her Name

    Film Review: ‘Blood on Her Name’

    In the opening moments of “Blood on Her Name,” an arrestingly twisty and suspenseful Southern noir thriller in the tradition of “One False Move,” we’re introduced to Leigh, the working-class protagonist played by Bethany Anne Lind, with a jarring close-up that is at once explicit and ambiguous. Her face is battered, her breathing is labored, [...]

  • Liev Schreiber Broadway

    Film News Roundup: Liev Schreiber Joins Will Smith's Tennis Drama 'King Richard'

    In today’s film news roundup, Liev Schreiber and retired pro footballer Vernon Davis score roles, Jason Blum will speak at his alma mater, Irish drama “Rialto” finds a U.S. distributor and “1917” hits a box office milestone. CASTINGS Popular on Variety Liev Schreiber will portray tennis coach Paul Cohen in Warner Bros.’ “King Richard” opposite [...]

  • AMC theater

    AMC Entertainment Reports Mixed Fourth-Quarter Results

    AMC Entertainment has reported mixed fourth-quarter results, which saw revenues rise 2.4% to $1.45 billion, despite a 4.4% drop in U.S. attendance to 62.3 million. The exhibitor, owned by Dalian Wanda Group, announced a fourth-quarter loss of $13.5 million, compared to a year-earlier profit of $170.6 million, due to $84.3 million of expense related to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content