Intermission, the 2003 debut feature by Irish director John Crowley, unfortunately is filmed in a process we’ll call HeadacheVision. The camera operator and zoom puller are clearly both epileptics, and apart from when this twitchy movie takes a brief breather in a steady master shot, the whole thing feels like ’90s television, a queasy aesthetic so annoying you may be tempted to walk out.
Don’t. Stay planted through the end credits (during which, incidentally, Colin Farrell lays down a serviceable rendition of “I Fought the Law”). Give contemporary Dublin and its rough-and-ready denizens a little time to work on you. Stupid camera shenanigans aside, theatre veteran Crowley deftly directs his large, stellar cast, and playwright-cum-screenwriter Mark O’Rowe serves up a wild knot of character arcs pitched somewhere among the neighborhoods of Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Danny Boyle. You’ll emerge bruised and grinning.
The crux here is that angry, young pretty boy John (Cillian Murphy, 28 Days Later), lacking faith in his girlfriend, Deirdre (Kelly Macdonald, Stella Does Tricks), breaks up with her to test her love. Her response is to shack up — and shag down — with a balding buffoon called Sam (Michael McElhatton), which sends Sam’s pretty wife Noeleen (Deirdre O’Kane) into a sex-mad rage, drawing in John’s naïve mate Oscar (David Wilmot) for her own boudoir revenge tactics. Virtually everyone in town ends up thrashed and transformed by John’s little emotional intermission, which lends the movie its title.
Though far from plotless, Intermission is definitely a product of our ADD-riddled era. For Trainspotting fans, there’s a pair of wannabe hipsters serving time at the local supermarket under their totalitarian boss, Mr. Henderson (Owen Roe), who spouts quasi-Americanisms and haughtily chases them with “As they say in the States.” The four or five aficionados of Once Upon a Time in the Midlands can savor a zany heist, enjoyably bungled. Those who dug the recent Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, Michael Winterbottom’s Wonderland or even the Bridget Jones franchise will find themselves bonding with these lonely hearts. There’s even a documentarian (Tom O’Sullivan) struggling to catch all the action, à la Winterbottom’s feckin’ brill clubbing manifesto 24 Hour Party People.
The link, of course, is the astonishing Shirley Henderson, featured in all of the above, who once again gives a remarkable performance (as Sally, Deirdre’s mousy, antisocial sister). Sally is letting her mustache grow out — a mad bus driver played by Brian F. O’Byrne kindly likens her to Tom Selleck — and opting out of social graces in favor of bludgeoning honesty. Her aching exchanges with her widowed mother (a superb Ger Ryan) deserve a movie of their own.
Unlike the characters in the sappy wet dream that is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, lovers in Intermission are ravenous, selfish and beastly — a refreshing mirror of the world inhabited by those of us who do not believe that every script has to focus on variations of its own one-note screenwriter. It’s a joy here to see callow bitches and bastards depicted as such, with no hackneyed reconciliation in sight. God bless the Irish.