It’s hard to picture Dublin Oldschool on the stage. Emmet Kirwan’s 2015 poem-play of the same name, which ran at the National Theatre and won the Stewart Parker award, finds rushing, thumping life on screen, with Kirwan staying on to screenwrite and star, joined by first-time feature director (and co-writer) Dave Tynan. Set free from its theatrical box, Oldschool is a film that never sits still for long.
Set over the course of one druggy, downey, uppey bank holiday weekend in the Irish capital, Dublin Oldschool has a compellingly mobile energy. It snakes through Dublin’s streets and backalleys, across its bridges, into clubs and bars and bathrooms, into the drowsy living rooms of true believers who haven’t seen a duvet for days. As the chemically chaotic Jason (Kirwan) tries to deal with various personal and professional stresses, he bounces from spot to spot, through the subterranean fairways etched out by The Sesh.
Still, you can see how the claustrophobia of a fixed theatrical set would fit the mood. Locations shift and jump, and moods swing, but for those caught up in its demands, The Sesh stays The Sesh, its essential dimensions the same across the board. It can be hard to see outside the craic, and Jason’s got The Fear. His head is wrecked after an encounter with his estranged older brother Daniel (Ian Lloyd Anderson), an addict sleeping rough on Dublin streets. His ex-girlfriend Gemma (A Date For Mad Mary’s Seána Kerslake’s), tired of medicated conversations, is high-tailing it to London, leaving Jason twisting over regrets and missed chances. His ‘career’ as a DJ isn’t exactly active either, but he’s got a shot at a rave spot on the Sunday night. If he can make it through the weekend in one piece.
Dublin Oldschool has attracted inevitable comparisons to the junkie fever dreams of Trainspotting— there’s a wordy voiceover from Jason, and an early scene where he’s chased by a Garda through the street. But Oldschool is less comically grotesque, closer to a coming of age drama in its bitter-sweetness and slow burn towards resolution and reasonable decision-making. Kirwan is sweaty, angular, always ready to burst into panic, especially good at dazed-out Beaker gormlessness, or shouty heart-to-hearts with Daniel, Lloyd Anderson bringing a wounded, brittle anger.
Slivers of Oldschool’s spoken word origins survive in the hyper-literate narration, and even if the script feels occasionally overwritten, it does fit the self-involved, stream-of-conscious energy of the pharmaceutically fizzy. Mostly Dublin Oldschool is likeable and nostalgia-stroking, laced, if not with quips, then with the warm, well-worn back-and-forth of friendships formed over Sunday sunsets. It captures the lovely, awful uncertainty of youthful freedom, Wile. E. Coyotte out off the ledge, legs spinning in the air. Conor Smyth
Dublin Oldschool is showing at the Irish Film Institue, Savoy Cinema and Cineworld Dublin.