I could describe Ken Loach’s (The Wind That Shakes The Barley) latest movie as “Irish Footloose if Kevin Bacon was a communist” but I think I’d be underselling the subtlety of the ‘80s dance classic.
OK, look, I didn’t really want to see this film. We’re in the middle of a summer drought where the E ticket movies (Terminator: Genisys, Ted 2) are unappealing and the indie/foreign flicks can’t seem to muster good reviews, so we were down to this or Amy, the Amy Winehouse documentary. It has great reviews but it’s over 2 hours long which I sort of suspect means it’s stuffed with music. (I don’t really like documentaries padded with music; they tend to be musically frustrating, because you don’t get the full song, and frustrating as movie experiences because everything stops while the music is playing.)
Critical acceptance was warm (76%) while audiences were decidedly cooler (60%) and for exactly the reasons you might imagine: This is a movie about the poor communist Irish laborers who just want to dance (and subvert—but mostly dance) who end up being bullied by the Church and the richies.
This philosophically childish muddle simultaneously denies the prominence of Communism in the importance of the eponymous hall—focusing on endless dancing, Irish culture preservation, and the Jazz that Jimmy brought back from his exile in America—but frames the entire battle as one of the pure Irish workers versus the evil English landlords. Seriously, Steinbeck called from the grave to say, “Present a little bit of the other perspective, maybe?”
And I’m sympathetic to the Irish. I am Irish. Sorta. As far as I know. (There are some issues down at the adoption agency…)
But beyond the un-nuanced take on the topic, it’s just not very interesting overall. The pacing is off. The story doesn’t go into any real depth, even for the protagonists. It feels like there’s so much history being crammed into the sub-2-hour film that all of it gets short shrift.
I mean, basically, you gotcher message crammed in (Irish good/English bad, Atheists good/Church bad, Communists good/Everyone else bad) and that’s about it. There’s a priceless speech where Jimmy describes his Utopia: It’s old-school, laissez-faire America, of course—the freedom to be left alone—which describes exactly nothing about Communism.
And in all the struggles with the Church, not a single layperson is shown having, y’know, a spiritual crisis. Nary a one. They’re all oppressed by the Church and would all of course be happy to live without any of its services, if only they could be freed of its evil. (I’ve known a lot of ex-Catholics; most of them still held Catholic ideals to some degree or another.)
I don’t know. For what it was, it could’ve been a lot shorter and done the same job. I feel like something more was desired, but sacrificed on the altar of message.