Film Reviews

Dublin Oldschool – London Film Festival 2018

Our LFF coverage continues with a drug-fuelled Irish dramedy...

A much stronger critic than myself might be able to talk about Irish dramedy Dublin Oldschool without mentioning in any capacity Human Traffic, but they’re going to need the internal fortitude of one of those strongmen who drag giant trucks across great distances in order to pull that off. 

Set over a long weekend in the underground nightclub scene of Dublin, following a bunch of wannabe DJs in their mid-20s with few prospects in life and hopelessly addicted to all manner of drugs, guided along by excessively-flowery narration from our lead protagonist (here being co-writer Emmet Kirwan’s barely-functioning mess Jason) and soundtracked by some properly banging house tunes, I am genuinely shocked Dave Tynan’s first feature film doesn’t have a “inspired by” credit to mitigate any potential lawsuits down the line.  Still, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and all that, and whilst Dublin Oldschool doesn’t come close to its most obvious source of inspiration, it is at least really entertaining.

Supposedly, Dublin was a play before this big old feature film came along, done in the form of a spoken word piece between its two leads, the aforementioned Jason and the heroin-addicted older brother Daniel (Ian Lloyd-Anderson) he hasn’t seen in years, and I sincerely think the biggest compliment I can pay Dublin is that the idea never occurred to me whilst watching the film. 

With that information, it does explain the tonally ill-fitting narration and slowly-filled out flashback that pop up intermittently, but otherwise Tynan’s work avoids the usual pitfalls of stage-to-screen adaptations that either feel too static or go too big to disguise those stage origins.  There’s a good sense of place to both Dublin and specifically the life of Jason that stops the film from feeling too circular, and whilst I wouldn’t say the movie is exactly stylish – in fact, truth be told, the direction is quite Channel 4-y, kind of in line with that of a Paul Abbott series – it is shot with a life and energy that keeps things moving without drowning in affectations or undercutting itself with reactionary gritty kitchen sink direction.

Dublin Oldschool is thankfully one of the few British and Irish indies nowadays to have a sense of fun about itself.  Heaven knows we need something to act as a corrective to this glut of ultra-serious dramas and genial Tesco card features our shared industries have found themselves in, plus continuing the radical notion set forward by works like Skins that, holy sh*t, young people take drugs recreationally and that’s just a thing which happens instead of the start of some kind of all-encompassing darkness. 

Kirwan and Tynan want to draw a distinction between those who take drugs for recreation and those who take drugs as addicts incapable of functioning without them, the film slowly building to Jason’s realisation that he’s not actually that different from his brother despite his attempted high-horse moralising about not being a junkie – “junkie” to Jason equating solely to “heroin user” despite him doing way more drugs per day and being barely able to function without a constant stream of hits.

However, in the execution of doing so they’ve managed to undercut their own message somewhat since drugs are equal amounts a source of comedy and drama.  Almost everybody featured in Dublin Oldschool is more an addict than a recreational user and their addictions have negatively affected their lives – Jason’s ruined the potential of his relationship with ex-girlfriend Gemma (Seánna Kerslake) due to being out-of-it most of the time and confrontational & irritable when sober, whilst Dave (Liam Heslin), who’s trying to rebrand himself as “Dave the Rave” against all common sense, is in a permanent state of spaced and frequently sleeps in the street. 

But for every Daniel we’re supposed to pity, there’s a Dave who is entirely a source of comic relief, so the distinctions between “functional addict” and “hopeless junkie” are blurred to such an extent that the drama between Jason and Daniel doesn’t land as it should.  To invoke Trainspotting as a comparison despite that being brutally unfair to 97% of all movies ever made, there was a movie that was able to communicate both the allure & pleasures of drug use and the wide-reaching damage of such addictions because it always drew clear distinctions between the two kinds and only very occasionally tied the drug-taking to the film’s comedy – go back and watch Trainspotting again and make note how often drug-taking and its accompanying addiction in order to remain semi-functional is played for laughs, it’s less than you think.

Still, even if it can’t reach greatness, this is a very enjoyable film.  It’s often funny with a good frequency of one-liners (“Are you Beaker from The Muppets?” one DJ asks Jason when the latter turns up off-his-face to a set and can’t close his fish mouth), the cast are all very charming to watch which helps fill in some deficiencies in the writing of certain characters (mostly the eye-rolling women), and it obviously sounds excellent because what good would a movie set in the Irish DJ community be if the soundtrack sucked?  Dublin Oldschool is a solid first effort for Dave Tynan that won’t become anyone’s new favourite film, but displays enough potential and is already entertaining enough that maybe with time he might make that kind of film. 

For now, this was exactly the kind of late-Festival, post-spiritual-hangover film I needed.

JULY2018 rating three 3

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