Dublin Oldschool movie review: The party's over as play loses much of its magic on the big screen
Drugs are fun. This inconvenient truth lies at the heart of Dublin Oldschool, Emmet Kirwan's adaptation of his own hugely acclaimed 2014 stage play, in which he and Ian Lloyd Anderson played estranged brothers who share a dark obsession with all things narcotic. The show was a two-man job, lean, mean, nasty and funny, but in this film version he and director Dave Tynan have broadened out the story to include more characters and a more panoramic vision of contemporary Dublin nightlife.
Kirwan is Jason, a loose-necked fun-lover in his early 30s who works in a record shop, does a bit of DJing and a lot of drugs. It's all under control, he'd tell you if you asked him, but when we first set eyes on Jason he's lying in the gutter having presumably slept there all night. After an amusing encounter with a couple of financially savvy street kids, a business transaction with a drug buddy and a comical chase involving a guard who needs to spend more time at the gym, Jason turns up late for work, and struggles to focus. He's too busy planning his weekend.
As advertised by Jason and his circle of friends, drug taking is a bit of a laugh. They gather in a noisy communal flat presided over by Lisa (Sarah Greene) to smoke weed, pop pills and toot coke like there's no tomorrow.
The group's camaraderie is warm and touching, but they don't seem to realise how conditional and temporary their bonds are: these ravers are growing older, and pretty soon the less idiotic ones are going to start waking up and getting scared.
The warning signs are everywhere: Jason's insidious dependency on stimulants is growing, he's starting to scramble for money and let down friends. Then, in a quiet alley, he comes face to face with the brother he thought was dead.
Daniel (the excellent Ian Lloyd Anderson) was Jason's protective and loyal older sibling until a fondness for weed led him to heroin. He disappeared off to England, where everyone assumed he died in a ditch: but now he's back, like Jacob Marley's ghost, to point out the error of Jason's ways.
Their initial encounters are angry: Jason is bitter, Daniel needs money. But gradually, their old fondness begins to resurface and Daniel, who's now clean, gently begins to point out that there's not all that much difference between his former habits and Jason's 'recreational' drug use. That thesis is, of course, robustly rejected: a crisis will be needed to wake Jason up, and life will soon oblige.
There are plenty of good actors in Dublin Oldschool: Seana Kerslake plays Gemma, Jason's beautiful former girlfriend who still cares for him but clearly got sick and tired of all the nonsense; Mark O'Halloran has an amusing turn as his boss at the record store; and Greene skilfully grounds a somewhat underwritten role. But you feel that all these characters are merely ornaments orbiting the story's real drama - the troubled relationship of Jason and Daniel.
The scenes Kirwan and Lloyd-Anderson share are easily the best things in this film. They feel raw, intense, frighteningly real: the writing here is note-perfect, scrupulously mean as Joyce used to say, and Lloyd-Anderson brilliantly captures the tortured desperation of the junkie outcast. But two men talking does not an entire movie make, and in fleshing out his cautionary tale, Kirwan has thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
Voice-overs hardly ever work in film, and Jason's constant internal chattering feels intrusive, unnecessary. High-blown poetic writing is absolutely fine in the spontaneous heat of a live stage performance, but can sound false in a film. I might have enjoyed lines like "a thousand claws scrape every vertebrae" if I'd been lucky enough to see Dublin Oldschool on stage, but here I kept thinking "nobody talks like that".
Nobody talks this much, either. Tynan's film is laden down with aimless chatter, and its plot meanders drearily towards a country rave that seems curiously old-fashioned, and feels like a piece of Dublin's past, not its present.
Dublin Oldschool (16, 95mins) - 2 stars
Also releasing this week:
Films coming soon...
Whitney (Whitney Houston, Bobby Brown, Cissy Houston, Bobbi Kristina Brown); Mary Shelley (Elle Fanning, Bel Powley, Tom Sturridge, Ben Hardy, Maisie Williams); The First Purge (Lex Scott Davis, Y'lan Noel, Marisa Tomei, Joivan Wade).