Considering the Irish, In Film

Spend St. Patrick’s Day With a Few of These Lucky Charms

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

The spirit of the Irish diaspora comes alive with the annual celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Festivities include hearty parades and the copious consumption of green beer and food (with special Lenten dispensations for those who gave up particular treats or tasty beverages), all in honor of the fiery passion of a people inspired by language, music and a cultural mythology linked to the earth.

For those looking for an alternative to the shamrock party-vibe, I, your trusty neighborhood film critic, offer a selection of screen gems to lure you away from the ribald revelry of the streets. Invite a few close friends over and kick back with this double shamrock of features celebrating the lasting impact of the enchanted Irish Spring.

My Left Foot

Christy Brown (Daniel Day-Lewis) was a poor working class Irishman born with cerebral palsy who could only effectively manipulate his left foot. But Brown went on to become a celebrated poet and artist. Jim Sheridan’s 1989 film based on Brown’s memoir catapulted its Academy Award winning lead actor into the artistic firmament. At its core though, is the message that no impediment can limit the human spirit.

The Commitments

This 1991 dramedy, adapted from Roddy Doyle’s novel of the same name featuring the music of Wilson Pickett and Percy Sledge, tells the story of a group of unemployed Dubliners who formed a band. The raucous dream of performing soul music by the all-white band ultimately fails due to the constant bickering among the members. And yet, failure never sounded as sweet as this — the bonus here is the soundtrack, which, after the screening, can get the after-party started.

Once

Music, again, plays a major role in this 2006 musical film debut from writer-director John Carney and Dublin is the scene, but Once captures the bittersweet taste of love and a common passion as a struggling street musician (Glen Hansard of the Irish folk rock band The Frames) begins to tentatively court a young Eastern European immigrant (Marketa Irglova), a trained pianist with family commitments. The film’s organic nature — based on the real-life musical and romantic collaboration that developed between Hansard and Irglova — garnered awards (an Oscar for Best Original Song), fans around the world and a stage adaptation that aims to keep this contemporary faery tale story alive in our hearts a little longer.

Miller’s Crossing

Leave it to the Coen Brothers to infuse the American gangster saga with a healthy dose of Irish flavor. Miller’s Crossing pits rival gangs against one another with Gabriel Byrne playing both sides to his advantage. This is crime noir rooted in political and social history (the Prohibition era), but sadly, the film failed to hit the box office bull’s eye during its limited run. Of course, the best way to experience its true glory is in more intimate home screenings — with your favorite crew.

In America

Writer-director Jim Sheridan snags a second spot on this St. Patrick’s Day list of required screenings with the family drama In America, which he co-wrote with his daughters Naomi and Kirsten. The semi-autobiographical story details the trials of modern-day Irish immigrants attempting to stay afloat in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen. Love and redemption reign.

The Secret of Roan Inish

The power of Irish folklore drives this John Sayles film about the selkies, a mythic race of seals that can shed their skin and take on human form. A young girl, sent to live with her grandparents near the island of Roan Inish, comes to believe that her brother, swept away as an infant, may have been rescued by the legendary creatures and be able to return. This 1994 feature is fitting St. Patrick’s Day fare for the entire family.

Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com

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