Dy­ing for a laugh

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

DEATH OF A SU­PER­HERO ★★★ Di­rected by Ian Fitzgib­bon. Star­ring Andy Serkis, Thomas Brodie-Sang­ster, Ais­ling Lof­tus, Michael McEl­hat­ton, Sharon Hor­gan 15A cert, lim­ited re­lease, 96 min YOU MIGHT rea­son­ably ex­pect a film about a dy­ing teenager to be some­thing of a downer. Well, the lat­est re­lease from Ian Fitzgib­bon, di­rec­tor of A Film with Me in It and Per­rier’s Bounty, does work hard – and re­spon­si­bly – at in­ject­ing colour into this most trou­bling of sce­nar­ios.

The pro­tag­o­nist fan­cies him­self as a car­toon­ist, and very nicely ren­dered an­i­ma­tions com­ment fan­tas­ti­cally on his crises through­out. The stut­ter­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween the boy and a fe­male con­tem­po­rary is en­er­gised with grumpy ado­les­cent anger. But this is ul­ti­mately a som­bre movie that chooses to pull few punches.

The first-rate Thomas BrodieSang­ster plays a smart, mid­dle­class Dublin kid named Don­ald Clarke (let’s just move on, shall we?). As the film be­gins, some time af­ter Don­ald’s can­cer di­ag­no­sis, the lad is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly with­drawn from his trau­ma­tised par­ents (Michael McEl­hat­ton and Sharon Hor­gan). He is sent to talk to a steady, in­hu­manly pa­tient ther­a­pist (Andy Serkis) and slowly, re­luc­tantly be­gins to con­nect a lit­tle bet­ter with those around him.

The per­for­mances are hon­est and grounded through­out. It’s par­tic­u­larly pleas­ing to see the great Andy Serkis step­ping away from the mo­tion-cap­ture, calm­ing down by sev­eral de­grees and prov­ing that he can excel in re­strained, thought­ful roles.

An­drew McCarten’s adap­ta­tion of his own novel evades sen­ti­men­tal­ity as it con­fronts var­i­ous un­happy truths: Don­ald suf­fers night ter­rors; he acidly asks fel­low pa­tients what they are go­ing to do when they grow up. How­ever, for all its in­tegrity, the film does ul­ti­mately feel a lit­tle short on plot.

So many bases are cov­ered that, from time to time, Death of a Su­per­hero comes across more like an ed­u­ca­tional tool than a fully fleshed-out drama. We don’t quite ask that a teen drama take on the re­lent­less fa­tal­ism of Michael Haneke’s Amour. A lit­tle more nar­ra­tive would, how­ever, have been wel­come.

An im­pres­sive piece, none­the­less.

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