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A tender diary of innocents abroad

Those National Lampoon guys really should look into this whole Rumspringa thing.

Translating as 'running around', it's the name given by the Amish for their teenage rites-of-passage, where, just before they're baptised into the Amish church, their sheltered young men and women are sent out into the big, bad world to experience for themselves just how successful the devil has been. Or, as the Amish themselves put it, "try out activities that are normally forbidden".

These are kids who have never heard of John Lennon. Or Marilyn Monroe. Or JFK. Who don't listen to -- or play -- music. Or drink alcohol. Or smoke. Or do anything else that involves "deceiving the body". And then they're told to go out and party. Like it's 1999. Not 1799. The potential for comedy, as these young fish-out-of-pure-water find themselves running wild with heathens their own age is enormous, but, thankfully, Amish: World's Squarest Teenagers, doesn't just play it for laughs. Despite the insulting, and awkward, title.

Following Leah Miller, her brother Andrew, and three fellow Amish teenagers, as they spend four weeks in England, each week sees the group move to a different geographical, social and financial location. It helps, too, that Leah narrates the story of their experiences.

Last week, it was the mean streets of London, where our five young innocents were introduced to knife crime, casual sex and the neon decadence of Soho. This week, it was the lush Kent countryside, and a brother and sister, Simon and Liz, deeply into art and music. Which, given that not only is music a no-no among the Amish, but fine art of painting is taboo, too, meant some inner struggles for their guest. As Miller Snr informs us in one of his regular bible-quoting interludes, "Exodus 20, Verse 4: Thou shall not make unto thee any graven image".

So, when Simon's Arctic Monkeys-wannabe band rock out for the visitors, the initial reaction is tempered somewhat by both the loudness and the belief that any music that doesn't glorify God is sinful. For these kids, even Cliff Richard is partying to the devil's music. Oh, and they believe that rock music kills plants. The five Amish kids soon learn, after they join the group for a local music festival, that rock music clearly thrills the vegetables. And meatheads.

Despite the fact that these five might actually believe that old Ardal O'Hanlon line about chocolate being the devil's sh*te, you can't help but fall in love with Leah, Andrew, Becky, Leon and Jerry.

It would have been easy for the producers here to go for the Elf or Forrest Gump route in the editing room, but there's a tenderness here that helps the central culture clash of kids living in the present trying to understand kids living in the past throw up many intriguing questions.

Such as, which kids are truly living in the present, and which kids are living in the past?

It was the cast what threw me. When you see Chris O'Dowd (the loveable Irish comic actor who always looks like a dog who's just been shown a card trick -- see: The IT Crowd, Roman's Empire, the dreadful FM) is leading the line-up in a wackily-titled BBC production, well, you assume it's got to be yet another sitcom for the Roscommon rascal. Especially when his co-stars are Marc Wootton (My New Best Friend, La La Land) and Dean Lennox Kelly (Shameless).

Only, Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel turns out to be the terrestrial premiere of a wackily-titled BBC film that never quite made it to a cinema near you.

The plot lends itself to some sweet laughs -- three mates, two of them sci-fi nuts, one a sceptic, find a time portal in their local pub and are soon caught in a few loops as they jump through hoops -- but this is no Galaxy Quest. Or Back To The Future. Or Being John Malkovich, for that matter.

In the end, and despite an appearance by the often-reliable Anna Faris (The House Bunny), the most obvious question about this sporadically funny Weird Science-wannabe has to be: wouldn't it have made more sense as a TV outing?

BYRNE'S STARS

Amish: World's squarest teenagers ****

Frequently asked questions about time travel **


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