Too cruel for school
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