It’s hard to imagine two characters more in need of a hug than Will (Aiden Gillen) and his niece Stacey (Lauren Kinsella). Mark Noonan’s You’re Ugly Too pitches the two as a double-act, suddenly in each other’s lives and very unsure of their footing in the world. He is recently released from prison; she is a seemingly savvy 11 year-old, and both are dealing with knocks. Though this isn’t a traditional Freaky Friday role reversal, Stacey certainly has insights and advice for her uncle that belie her age, while Gillen plays Will as subdued and uneasy with himself. There is family history, and a tragedy has brought the pair together so that Will finds he is unexpectedly and suddenly guardian to his niece. Setting up home in a midlands caravan park, both seem very much adrift in the world. The movie feels like a waiting room for both their lives as they take a time-out to find a rhythm to living together and get to know each other. The midlands around them are cast in a milquetoast haze, beautiful but without inclines or declines; the land and this family are both without dimension.”
The formula of so many movies has us create expectations, but You’re Ugly Too does not pander to these, and the movie is all the more refreshing and mature for it. There are no emotional breakdowns or easy character transformations; both characters are jaded and used to the world. This is not to say the movie is a solemn affair; Noonan’s script gifts the characters with humour and jibes for them to use to ensure their defences. The relationship between the pair develops through easy banter and there are moments of great wit and light in their exchanges. Indeed, the very title of the movie is built around a joke. Not all of the humour works; the film works hard to create effortless Irish humour but doesn’t always hit the mark. Lines of dialogue feel over worked and the foul-mouth and wit of Stacey jar with a character that is, in the end, an isolated young girl. That said, the grandest of clichés can be rolled out for Lauren Kinsella – she is a natural talent.
Aiden Gillen is swamped in a back catalogue of forceful characters and, while there is no quirk or high drama to Will, he is nevertheless complex, subdued by doubt and consequences, wanting to do right by his ward, but seemingly defeated from the outset. Will and Stacey become laterally involved in a domestic drama in a caravan a few doors down, but really engagements with other characters are ultimately used mostly as vehicles to unwrap the story behind Will’s past. The story does build to a crisis point but everything is modestly played and the closing scenes are wonderfully pitched to give hope and resolution.