– Summary –
Director : Ben Kellett
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Brendan O’Carroll, Nick Nevern, Eilish O’Carroll, Paddy Houlihan, Jennifer Gibney, Danny O’Carroll, Dermot Crowley, Robert Bathurst, Dermot O’Neill, Fiona O’Carroll, Simon Delaney, Chris Patrick-Simpson, Keith Duffy, Martin Delaney, Daithi O’Carroll, Rory Cowan, Gary Hollywood, Pat Shields, Amanda Woods, Sorcha Cusack.
Approx Running Time : 94 Minutes
Synopsis: Martiarchal Mrs Brown finds her fruit-n-veg stall at a Dublin street market under threat, as well as being up for millions in a tax payment long overdue.
What we think : Leaden, uneven, lacking in vitality and ultimately dying horribly on-screen, the fabulously funny Mrs Brown’s Boys doesn’t make the transition from the small screen the way it might have hoped. Many of the jokes don’t work – especially O’Carroll’s somewhat racist caricature of an Asian sensei training a bunch of blind ninja (which is a stupid as it sounds) – and I think even fans of this hugely popular franchise might find themselves scratching their heads in bemusement more than hilarity.
For many, Mrs Brown remains the inexplicably popular matriarch of her self-titled television program, a man-in-drag one-joke wonder that has gone from strength to strength based on the success of not only a live stage show, but (as of this review) 3 television series from the BBC. Brendan O’Carroll, the creator and the guy in a dress who performs as Mrs Brown, brings his bawdy, oft-crude sense of humor from the small screen confines of a Glasgow studio to the wide-screen local flavor of Dublin, Ireland, where the series is actually set. Usually crass, often derivative, sometimes predictable, the film version of Mrs Brown doesn’t exactly offer much respite from the smattering of sight gags and entendre-laden dialog as it barrels along on whatever trajectory the director – Ben Kellett – decided on any given day. If you’re a fan of Mrs Brown’s Boys, there’s almost nothing that will prevent you from checking this thing out, and I can spoil it a little if I say that non-fans will find little here to endear itself to them – other than confusion – so approach this film with all the requisite caution you would were you to stumble upon the brash, colloquial television series.
Plot synopsis courtesy Wikipedia: Agnes Brown (Brendan O’Carroll) runs an independent market, selling fruit and vegetables on Dublin’s Moore Street market. It has been under attack from P.R. Irwin (Dermot Crowley), an MP (PRIC) who is in an arrangement with a ruthless Russian businessman who wants to put all the market stalls out of business and open a shopping center on the site. Her stall is the next to be targeted, being sent a bill for unpaid tax left by her grandmother, and a man (working for Irwin) appears offering to buy her stall and make the bill disappear. Agnes nearly accepts, but Winnie (Eilish O’Carroll) reveals this news to the locals, forcing Agnes into defending her stall from the developers while they look for ideas how to raise the money. As the chase to find a missing receipt for the text bill begins, Agnes, together with her family, as well as barrister Maydo Archer (Robert Bathurst) try to stall for time.
As a matter of full disclosure, my wife and I thoroughly enjoy the Brown’s franchise’s television incarnation. My wife a little bit more than I, I suspect. The typically 30-minute foray into the un-PC world of Agnes Brown offers some mid-level comedy derived from watching a middle-aged man dressed as an elderly woman cursing
his her way through a joke-riddled script that offers such lowbrow moments as to warrant a live studio audience. The television incarnation has a localized charm, thanks largely to the show’s fourth-wall busting jostle of wink-wink bawdiness and pseudo-cornball sentimentality, as O’Connell and his mostly familial cast (you know you’re on a winner when you can cast your own wife as your character’s daughter) jovially incestualise the British sitcom, simultaneously lowering the collective IQ of all who dare to watch it. Mrs Brown’s Boys is the modern poster child for beer-swilling funny, and O’Carroll is laughing all the way to the bank. One suspects O’Carroll is setting himself up as the modern answer to the late, great Benny Hill, with a similarly nudge-nudge, wink-wink style of ribald British bawdiness.
Naturally, the boffins at Brown’s HQ figured that, together with their stage-show blitzkrieg and rampant television success, the time was right to bring the matriarch of Brown to the big screen, together with all the characters you know and possibly love. So, without a live audience to bounce laughs off, O’Carroll and crew flounder badly in what ends up as a haphazard, One Woman Versus The World styled narrative that loosely strings together some mild, innocuous laughs, some ribald crassness and some outright racism in the name of dragging a chuckle from your slack-jawed maw. In terms of story, D’Movie is simplistic – much like the television show – and rides roughshod on audience appreciation for the show’s lowbrow laughs, even at the expense of turning actors like Dermot Crowley and Robert Bathurst into damnably strident caricatures that jar with every utterance of pitiful dialogue. Bathurst is particularly hard done by, as a tourettes-suffering lawyer, and although he’s probably the funniest thing in the film (which is telling, really) it’s still hard to watch an actor of his caliber reduced to muttering “wank” under his breath every three or four seconds.
O’Carroll and his regular band of family actors – the man prides himself on being able to cast his kids, wife, sister and other in-laws etc as characters within the series – join an expanded litany of local Dublin thespians, giving the film a far greater scope and sense of being than it could muster through its television iteration. The film opens with a pretty lively musical number, featuring Agnes and a bunch of other Dubliner women pushing prams (which isn’t explained), and closes with a courthouse-step-held dance performance, but between all that is a selection of inadequate laughs, some desperate vignettes and more than a few touchstone moments for franchise fans. O’Carroll’s script, which stumbles through a miasma of Russian mafia shenanigans, negotiates Irish tax law and even strums the heartstrings of Agnes’s hidden shame of having to put her kids into care when they were infants, can’t muster the required dramatic or comedic heft to justify the added screen size or budget, resulting in a movie that might as well exist in a vacuum. The humor’s daffy self-referential tone and contrived “break the fourth wall” elements (the film includes fluffed lines and outtakes within the story itself, something the television show does really well, yet it falls utterly flat here) just fail, O’Connell’s jokes ending up flat on the floor with wince-inducing awkwardness.
Perhaps the most offensive thing about D’Movie is its inherent racism, which is more of a problem here than it is in the television version. O’Carroll performs the role of Mr Wang, a slant-eyed “Asian” man with questionable consonant enunciation, which these days is about as funny as being stabbed in the eye with a white hot poker. Indeed, O’Carroll’s radar for stepping over the line is way off here, as Wang’s appearance makes one cringe with every passing moment of screen time. Plus, it’s just downright offensive. Plenty of the film’s other ideas just don’t work, such as the Blind Ninja group who utterly fail to draw any laughs as they attempt to “infiltrate” the Dublin tax office, among other things, while the film’s insistence on making its key villains, a trio of Russian thugs who are accompanied by a thunderous bass tone each time they appear, way more nasty than needed just evaporates any kooky charm they might have had. And a running gag with Agnes confusing a seller from India as being Jamaican runs out of steam after the first time we hear it. More often than not, any laughs I had were of embarrassment, that “I can’t believe this passed the censor” awkwardness derived from years of political correctness run amok.
What’s most disappointing about the film is that it lacks the barbs O’Carroll slings out in the television show. I’m not entirely sure the Brown’s franchise is one which would ever work in a cinematic format. For without a laugh track, the cast flounder badly as jokes just hang in the air like a stinky fart. One half expected a “b’tom-tish” drum snare between gags, but sadly, not even this idea for a laugh makes it into the film. The cast all gamely do their best, but the film’s incoherent story and middling humor, which is derived from the copious slapstick elements late in the movie as opposed to the dialogue the show is famed for, lack impact or a true cinematic heart. There’s not even a showstopping moment in the film, a key scene which “makes” the movie something worthwhile; sadly, D’Movie is limited by O’Carroll’s inability to create a truly cinematic world for his popular characters.
Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie is a disaster for folks unfamiliar with the franchise, and even for the die-hard fanatics I suspect this will be something of a slog. My wife remarked once the credits rolled (credits with outtakes, so stick around for outtakes from the film that are even less funny than the film itself, a rarity in outtake history!) that she was “bored” about three quarters of the way through this, and I have to say I couldn’t argue with her. The film is a slog, as it meanders, sprints, desperately lunges and gut-punches laughs from every angle without actually achieving anything at all. Questionable characters and uneven tone reduce this once potent comedy franchise to something of a laughing stock; that is, you spend your time laughing at it, rather than with it. Frankly, D’Movie is a D’Bacle, and needs D’stroying.
© 2014, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.