Recently Terry McMahon’s latest film Patrick’s Day was bestowed with the Best Feature Narrative Maverick Award at the Woodstock Film Festival in the US. Maverick is the perfect word to describe McMahon whose unbroken spirit powered his directorial debut Charlie Casanova. That was a film that split critics and audience alike, with as many praising the film as condemning it. Although there may have been more in the later camp, no-one could deny that its presence, good or bad, was keenly felt in the Irish filmmaking community. Now he returns with a much heralded film, which has picked up awards both domestically and internationally. Has the maverick been tamed?”
Patrick’s Day is the story of Patrick (Moe Dunford), a young man with mental health issues who just happened to have been born on St. Patrick’s Day. Celebrating his birthday, he is separated from his mother (Kerry Fox) by a large crowd and finds himself alone near his hotel room. There he bumps into Karen (Catherine Walker), a lonely flight attendant who takes an interest in Patrick. As Patrick falls for this woman, who has demons of her own, his mother actively seeks to end his romantic endeavours, going so far as to enlist a local Garada (Philip Jackson) to distract Patrick from his pursuit.
McMahon hangs his film on Dunford, with the strength of his performance the sword of Damocles hanging above the film. Mercifully for director and audience alike this proves to be the making of the film as Dunford invests Patrick with a fragility, bubbling rage, and emotional rawness, without lapsing into the stereotypical depiction of a person with mental illness. The Dungarven native has been rightly lavished with praise with a European Shooting Star Award, but his co-stars are equally worthy of attention. Particularly of note is Kerry Fox, who has a balancing act of her own portraying Patrick’s overbearing and over-protective mother, Maura. It is a challenging and complex character as she could easily come of as a one-dimensional villain, but Fox handles it with aplomb. Catherine Walker too holds her own against these two, serving as a foil for Fox and a support for Dunford. Her character is an emotional mess and Walker plays her as equally likeable and disturbing. Her influence on Patrick is clear to see and aids in defining and framing the actions of Maura. Where the characterisation doesn’t work as well is with the supporting characters, Philip Jackson’s Garda serving as little more than comic relief. He is needed for this, but his character is never developed into anything more.
McMahon has matured as filmmaker since his polarizing debut, and nowhere is this more apparent than in his script. Knowing that a film dealing with such a heady subject matter could easily become overwhelming and unwatchable he peppers the film with moments of levity and wry humour. This he manages without ever overplaying his hand and it is this coupled with his trust in his actors that give Patrick’s Day such a hold on an audience. Cinematographer Michael Lavelle, whose minimalist style on the superb documentary His & Hers worked to great effect, continues his run of framing emotion with lightness of touch married to an intimate use of POV to frame the emotional scenes. Notice has been made elsewhere about the key scene in the third act, but it bears repeating that this sequence is amongst the best uses that film has ever been put to on this island. The use of sound is also very important in this film, with McMahon, composer Ray Harman, sound mixer Hugh Fox, and sound editor Nikki Moss going to great lengths to ensure that the aural experience matches the visual. This work embraces and enhances the emotion and intimacy of the film.
Ultimately Patrick’s Day is an incredibly impressive work of fiction. A powerful, hard-hitting and emotional ride of a film, superbly framed and exquisitely performed, and is worth every cent of the admission price.