Guest writer Alun Hood pens us a review following Fashion on Screen’s successful UK Premiere Screening with Q&A event at the Courthouse Hotel on Friday 5th August.
Since comparisons are supposed to be odious, it may be to the advantage of the hugely enjoyable Irish independent film SONGS FOR AMY, that it is only now being distributed, four years after it was made and almost a decade after the release of the prodigiously successful “Once”, a not dissimilar exercise in music- and booze-soaked gaelic love and loss.
While “Once” has arguably stronger music and a more coherent plot, there are undeniably massive amounts to enjoy in SONGS FOR AMY. Told mostly in flashback, Konrad Begg’s film chronicles the ill-fated romance between singer-songwriter Sean and aspiring writer Amy; after a disastrous misunderstanding over what happens on the night before they are due to get married she takes up a job offer in New York and ends up in a rebound relationship with a jawdroppingly narcissistic but hugely successful pop star while Sean moons around Galway writing the eponymous songs for Amy and getting hammered. In a slightly improbable development, Sean inherits a posh country hotel from an estranged sister and also learns that the late man he thought of as his Dad (an acclaimed musician also) is not in fact his biological father. When one is actually watching the movie the plot works rather better than it sounds when written down; it is actually as compulsive as a soap opera, and has a delightful way of occasionally wrong-footing audience expectations (such as the moment when Sean and his drunken band members unsuccessfully attempt to ram through the gate onto the airport tarmac as Amy’s departing plane is about to leave).
One of the chief pleasures of Fiona Graham’s screenplay is the rich array of supporting characters she has created. There is a hilarious sequence with a loquaciously stroppy taxi driver (Rory Mullen) who refers constantly to his car as though it’s human; I also hugely liked Gavin Mitchell as the prissy but good hearted manager of Sean’s bequeathed hotel, veteran actor James Cosmo as Amy’s disapproving father, and Olwyn Boyle is a trashy delight as the band drummer’s fabulously uncouth girlfriend. Best of all is the rogues gallery that is Sean’s band: Ford Kiernan is very funny but oddly touching, as well as borderline revolting, as Sled the drummer while there are shades of an Irish “Withnail & I” to Barry Ward’s kindly stoner sidekick and Ross MacMahon’s monstrously uncouth and insensitive, if wonderfully watchable, Declan. Kevin J Ryan puts in an entertainingly flamboyant cameo as JJ, the singer Amy ends up with.
The central couple -former East Ender Sean Maguire, doing a pretty flawless Irish accent, and Lorna Anderson- are as emotionally convincing as they are screen-lickingly photogenic. Anderson in particular has a depth and luminosity that transcends some of her more cliched dialogue. The film strains credibility to an extent with its assertion that somebody as smart and sensitive as Amy would even entertain a liaison with a jerk like JJ, and the denouement of their relationship, while certainly amusing, fails to ring true. Costume designer Roisin Lennon has done outstanding work here as Amy’s wardrobe becomes incrementally but credibly more elegant and glamorous as she moves to New York and takes up with JJ.
Actually, the film as a whole is a visual treat (the cinematographer is Duncan Telford) with potent use of grainy, almost “home video”-style footage as Sean pines for his lost love, and stunning time delay shots of rolling clouds and multi-coloured skies over the dramatic Irish landscapes. Ben Benson the Second Unit Director who filmed most of the behind the scenes footage and the outdoor sequences on being questioned about the visual style of the film in the Q&A replied that the setting of Ireland almost filmed its self.
I could have done without the heavily symbolic dream sequence featuring the sole ruined tree and white stallion -as though Begg suddenly had an urge to direct a soft rock ballad video- and it is a shame that we never get to see Sean’s deceased sister as that would have enriched the story considerably (in fact, writer-producer Fiona Graham stated at the Q&A session following the Fashion On Screen-hosted London premiere last weekend that she had appeared in early drafts of the script.) Nonetheless, the various friendships presented in the film are entirely convincing and at times deeply poignant.
It is a coup for the production to feature the band Alabama 3 -as a bunch of hard-partying musicians that lead Sean astray the night before his wedding- but their participation might have had more resonance if we had actually got to see them playing onstage rather than just in the hotel room. It was also something of a coup for Fashion On Screen to secure the participation in a post-film Q&A of not only Fiona Graham but also Alabama 3’s Aurora Dawn Ellis in here first acting role and actor Ross MacMahon, who proves infinitely more likeable and articulate than the character he portrays! He told a hilarious story about his audition to get the part in the Q&A.
The Q&A was hosted by Fashion on Screens very own Production Director Lisa Braund who brought out the best in all of the guests getting them to reveal a few behind the scenes stories. A particularly good one being about the stuntman who injured himself, before filming his big scene, on a taco from the catering truck. He broke a tooth!
Despite a number of cavils, SONGS FOR AMY is a charming, consistently engaging love story with just enough grit to avoid soppiness. It looks and sounds wonderful and is shot through with sudden and unexpected laughs, Graham having an unerringly accurate ear for the eccentricities of everyday speech. Recommended for everybody, but downright unmissable if you’re a Sean Maguire fan, a number of whom were in attendance at the Fashion On Screen event on Friday. They were rewarded not only by an enjoyable movie experience but a personal video relay from LA with Maguire himself who also performed one of the numbers from the film with the composer. It was a fitting end to a hugely enjoyable evening.
Alun Hood writes for Whatsonstage and is an Olivier Judge. He has worked in
theatre for over 25 years.