The pressure on so-called ‘issue’ films to ‘start a conversation’, as the journo cliche goes, or, at least, to contribute to existing dialogue, can feel like an unfair burden. Good films are more nuanced than the message we would like to hear from them, and it’s hard to predict what kind of reactions they might provoke from wider audiences. Also, more crucially, meaningful conversations are just plain difficult things to have. To its credit, Irish indie Twice Shy, the second feature from Tipperary-born Tom Ryan, acknowledges this difficulty, and places the troubles of its characters ahead of its eye-catching subject matter, one that remains politically potent in the Republic’s current constitutional context.
The small film has attracted much attention for its framing device: an Irish girl’s trip to England for the termination of an unwanted pregnancy, the procedure, of course, being illegal in the Republic; a state-forced exile gaining larger ground in the Irish consciousness thanks to the willingness of women and allies to pierce the cloak of silence (in NI alone, 700 women made the trip last year). Andy (Shane Murray-Corcoran) is driving Maggie (Iseult Casey), his sort-of girlfriend, to Dublin for a flight over the water, while rom-com style flashbacks outline the beginning and eventual waning of the twenty-somethings’ relationship. Twice Shy is interested in the emotional and logistical details of the trip, ones that can get lost in the moral rhetoric of commentary (is it inappropriate to stay in a hostel the night before? Or to see a movie while you wait for the appointment?), but Ryan keeps his focus on the tensions between the couple.
The naturally reticent Andy sits on his crush for Maggie, forcing her to make the first move over traditional post-Learning Cert drinks. They both start uni in Dublin and the romance hits familiar milestones: first anniversary, first trip to London together, first resentments at diverging priorities. Andy grows worried about his father (Ardal O’Hanlon), a divorcee with a struggling business (whose obsoleteness is a little on the nose) and a serious case of the black dog. Pat Shortt’s turn as Maggie’s father is believable and boisterous, and the two have good chemistry, but Andy and his dad’s comfortable banter has an anxious, compelling edge. O’Hanlon projects an air of doom and when he is finally able to open up about his depression, and express shame and gratitude for Andy’s care, it’s moving and heartfelt and a reminder of the actor’s range.
The young couple are a little ordinary in personality, but Casey is especially good, communicating strength, quiet distress and good humour. The laconic, distracted Andy gives Murray-Corcoran less to work with, but as a naive, benign young man struggling to open up, his frustrations are relatable.
Twice Shy is more artificial in structure than the freeflowing coming-of-age crisis of Ryan’s strong debut feature, Trampoline, made in his hometown of Nenagh for just €1000, but both films have a well-observed naturalism. Twice Shy isn’t as rhythmic or enjoyably messy as Trampoline, and its sensitivity can come off as caution, but it dramatises important, often unseen, dilemmas and cares for its characters. Here, the unsure dialogue signals the secrets and silences of everyday young Irish love, where miscommunications grow like something in the belly. Conor Smyth
Twice Shy is available to stream on Volta.ie. Trampoline is available to stream on Amazon Prime.