Dublin Oldschool, Reviewed

An adaptation and expansion of the hit play Dublin Oldschool sees a young party animal reconnect with his estranged, drug-addicted brother, against the backdrop of the Dublin rave scene.

“What’s your name? Where’re you from? Would you like a can? Here’s a smoke and a yoke. Let’s be friends forever …”

Dublin Oldschool opens with a monologue from lead Jason (Emmet Kirwan), who talks about good times, night life, and the oneness of all living things. It’s the kind of talk that sounds incredible and makes a lot of sense to someone who’s monged out of it.

It sounds good to the viewer too: there are whoops and laughs in the cinema, and even a small round of applause before the title card.

A cut moves us from high highs to one of many comedowns for Jason, who’s waking up on the street and trying to shake off the night before, and soon, the police.

Director Dave Tynan works a dynamic camera throughout the film. The foot chase between Jason and an out-of-shape garda is a pleasing blend of action and comedy. Sometimes we’re watching Tom and Jerry, and then it’s back to serious street-level stakes.

These opening scenes are sharp, zippy, and full of momentum. Although this pace and energy soon prove unsustainable, Tynan continues to show skill and intelligence behind the camera throughout the film. When the narrative meanders, Tynan ensures that the audience is at least looking at something interesting.

Jason’s movement through Dublin Oldschool is like a yo-yo, a series of successive and rapid highs and lows.

Following the chase he’s scolded by his boss at the record shop where he works. But things are looking up.

His big break as a DJ may be within reach if he can show some visiting London DJs a good time at a party over the upcoming bank-holiday weekend. Sure he’s lost his phone, but the weekend’s coming and with it more pills, lines, and big beats.

The rhythm of Jason’s life, and the film’s writing, dictate a yin-yang balance to things.

Coincidence (or fate) sees Daniel (Ian Lloyd Anderson), Jason’s estranged brother, emerge from an alleyway. They have not seen each other in years.

The initial encounter between the two men plays out in clipped sentences and vagaries. Daniel is vulnerable but volatile, Jason is standoffish.

The stage-to-screen aspect of Dublin Oldschool really comes through in these scenes where Kirwan and  Lloyd Anderson butt heads. There’s hurt in their posture and movement, but an easiness that shows that no matter how damaged their relationship is, their brotherly bond still runs deep.

Kirwan and Lloyd Anderson play well against one another and look the part as well. Kirwan comes off as a cross between Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates and Lloyd Christmas. He looks haggard and slightly too old for the role, but this can be put down to his life of hard-living good-timing. Lloyd Anderson is gaunt and twitchy, with enough of a resemblance to Kirwan to serve as a portent of things to come when the party’s over.

Jason’s encounters with Daniel, which usually take place in alleyways, are the dramatic highpoint of the picture. The situation is so unlikely that it reads like something that could only ever happen in a movie, however, recent interviews with Kirwan frame aspects of this filmic family drama as biography.

There are other personal issues for Jason to contend with as well. His ex-girlfriend Gemma (Seána Kerslake) is still very much on his mind, but she apparently wants nothing to do with him. Only she does: everyone supports Jason, even people he’s on the outs with. He’s something of a charity case in the narrative, friends remind him not to get lost, look out for him, sort him out with drugs.

Jason is a force of nature in Dublin Oldschool and for the viewer there’s an attraction/repulsion thing going on. His behaviour is always self-serving, yet his inner voice speaks of a great understanding of the world and of people. The dream of Jason is very different from what we see in reality.

Even that dividing line gets blurrier in a haze of drugs and dance music. There’s one standout sequence where Jason steps through a recently fashioned hole in a wall. The other side of things is stylish and looks like a music video, but these moments of control are fleeting.

Jason is never really in control of the situation, his success is on the whim of others, and so he’s allowed to fail forward over and over.

To that end, there’s something oddly conservative in the film’s overall messaging. Kirwan’s grandstanding voiceover paints a seductive picture of endless summer nights and the virtues of living it up, something the narrative mostly supports. But there’s a cautionary aspect to all of this in Daniel. Don’t have too good a time or you’ll have a really terrible time.

There’s the spectre of Reefer Madness lurking at the edge of the frame, wagging a cautionary finger at every line of ketamine snorted and every pill swallowed.

The film’s closing shot, a lift from The Graduate, sees Daniel and Jason facing an uncertain future head on. There are possibilities for both of these men, potential to do better, but the film seems to suggest that this potential cannot be found in Jason’s session philosophy.

And despite the homage to Nichols’s work, Dublin Oldschool’s message is overt: whatever the future holds, it won’t feature huffing petrol and pissing yourself. As such, Dublin Oldschool ends up the feel-bad feel-good hit of the summer.

There is plenty to admire here. Ultimately, though, the narrative lets the film down.

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Luke Maxwell: Luke Maxwell is the host of the film review show, Viewfinder on 103.2 Dublin City FM. He also hosts The Movie Express Podcast, which you can find at www.movieexpress.org.

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