Too cruel for school

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

WEL­COME TO Stan­ley Is­land, Eng­land circa 1934, and a Catholic girls’ board­ing school on the re­mote isle. The stu­dents seem quite nor­mal here. They go to con­fes­sion, prac­tise their hymns, lust af­ter boys and idolise the enig­matic teacher, “Miss G”, played by Eva Green and sport­ing the same flinty ac­cent she used in Casino Royale.

Glam­orous and worldly, Miss G coaches the girls in div­ing and re­gales them with far-fetched sto­ries of her trav­els. Her big­gest fan is Di (Juno Tem­ple), who, as cap­tain of her dorm room, hap­pily abuses her petty power.

The lives of both Di and Miss G are shaken by the ar­rival of a new stu­dent, Fi­amma (Maria Valverde), from Spain. With her ex­otic ac­cent and hor­net-stung lips, Fi­amma soon be­comes an ob­ject of cu­rios­ity, adu­la­tion and, in some cor­ners, danger­ous jeal­ousy.

Com­par­isons to other in­spi­ra­tional teach­ers are hard to re­sist, but while the sur­ro­gate par­ents in Dead Poets So­ci­ety and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie mostly im­prove their stu­dents’ mal­leable minds, Miss G is a more volatile cre­ation. It’s sug­gested from the mo­ment Fi­amma ar­rives that things will not end well.

With canny use of lo­ca­tions in Kells and Wick­low, di­rec­tor Jor­dan Scott (daugh­ter of Ri­d­ley) has built a world that’s both vast and claus­tro­pho­bic: the wide fields and shim­mer­ing bodies of wa­ter make a mock­ery of the stu­dents’ col­lec­tive iso­la­tion. The cast is well cho­sen, and Scott cap­i­talises on the most strik­ing as­pects of the three leads: Green’s in­tim­i­dat­ing eyes, Valverde’s quiet con­fi­dence and, es­pe­cially, Tem­ple’s mean lit­tle face.

Cracks is well-acted and at­mo­spheric, so it’s a shame that the lan­guid pac­ing pre­vents this pe­riod thriller from re­ally hit­ting the bull’s eye. Still, as a di­rec­tor’s daugh­ter’s de­but, it’s far more likely to be com­pared to Sophia Cop­pola’s The Vir­gin Sui­cides than Jen­nifer Lynch’s long-for­got­ten Box­ing He­lena.

By the way, you’d be well ad­vised to avoid view­ing the trailer, which in­sists on giv­ing far too much away. ANY­BODY WHO writes about film in this coun­try will con­firm that a fre­quent read­ers’ com­plaint in­volves overly favourable re­views of Ir­ish films.

Well, you look at some­thing like Sit­u­a­tions Va­cant – sit­ting there like a happy lit­tle puppy be­side the meat cleaver – and you can’t help but be mer­ci­ful. It re­quires such in­dus­try and such determination to get a low-bud­get film into cin­e­mas that it be­hoves the critic to tread care­fully. There is, how­ever, no way round it. This ram­shackle, old-fash­ioned, tonally un­cer­tain com­edy is re­ally not very good.

Like too many Ir­ish films, Sit­u­a­tions Va­cant fo­cuses on a bunch of lads and their sup­pos­edly amus­ing ad­ven­tures at work and play. One chap lives with his mammy and longs for any job that in­volves the oc­cu­pa­tion of a desk. An­other does a bit of paint­ing and dec­o­rat­ing. A third works in a generic officeand lives with an anal, emas­cu­lat­ing wife.

Dur­ing the course of the pic­ture, var­i­ous things hap­pen to var­i­ous char­ac­ters in var­i­ous lo­ca­tions. It’s dif­fi­cult to be more pre­cise, be­cause the film is con­stantly pick­ing up plots and gen­res, fid­dling with them for a few mo­ments and then drop­ping them un­in­ter­est­edly.

Briefly, it be­comes one of those Anis­to­nian come­dies in which a man at­tempts to fol­low a set of dat­ing rules be­fore re­al­is­ing that ro­mance comes to those who are pre­pared to be them­selves. There’s some sub-Apa­tow jig­gery­pok­ery in which the painter tries to pick up a col­league. Else­where, in a mud­dled aside, the mammy’s boy makes ref­er­ence to an an­nual din­ner for his late dad. No plot is fully de­vel­oped.

The per­for­mances are okay. De­spite co­her­ent di­rec­tion by Lisa Mulc­ahy, the ac­tors are con­stantly let down by aw­ful jokes. One suc­cess­ful char­ac­ter is called Millen Ayre. Get it? Millen Ayre. It’s that kind of film.

Those lazy, hazy, nasty days of sum­mer

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