With Ireland routinely punching above its weight in documentary terms and indeed with our general cinematic output at consistently unheard of levels over the last couple of years it seems finally time to put to rest the idea that we cannot bring the required quality at this level. This writer has written about the mixed quality of films in the past and the reviewers who may have oversold them. Audiences were burned and have proved stubbornly hard to win back until quite recently. This last month, with the success at the box office of A Date for Mad Mary and The Young Offenders, has shown that the industry is in rude health and the audiences are now there. The hand wringing articles bemoaning the state of our national cinema can now be put to rest. We are bloody good at this. Which brings me rather nicely to Mattress Men.
Mattress Men is a documentary ostensibly a story of reinvention through necessity. It tells of Michael “Mattress Mick” Flynn (you have seen the posters). He had to come up with more inventive ways to sells his products after nearly going out of business during the recent economic crisis. The idea of creating ‘viral’ videos came along and suddenly things were looking up. But like all good documentary films there is more to this than it seems. Behind every great mattress man is another; in this case enter Paul Kelly. Paul is a grafter, multi-tasking selling mattresses and making videos (the green screen recordings are very funny). Paul is struggling financially with a family in a small inner city flat and a pay rise seemingly perennially in the distance. There is more than a touch of Ken Loach here but director Colm Quinn wisely avoids delving too deeply into this part of the story.
Completing this odd trio of characters is Brian Traynor who is consistently optimistic flag waver for the company. Decking out as a walking mattress (those eyes) he gently harangues people as they walk past the warehouse in Coolock. His asides about the people and the area steal the film a little.
This is a classic fly on the wall documentary as the tensions between Paul and Mick are explored (an early subplot of a rival PR man/burgeoning filmmaker to Paul elbowing his way in gives way quite quickly) and the consequences of Paul’s life under extreme financial distress come to light. It is here that the documentary is at its best and a confrontation between Mick and Paul becomes inevitable. This part of the film is quite grim but relief is always on hand through the videos made by Paul and Mick which are brilliantly dreadful and entertaining.
If there is a criticism of the film it is the way a major need that is mentioned early on is very neatly wrapped up in one phone call. Sometimes less is more in that regard. That aside Mattress Men is a terrific and ultimately quite moving film that shows how austerity eats at the soul of people who we don’t generally see on screen. The direction by Quinn is light and the editing brings a fluid story together with both grace and a grin. Highly recommended.