In his new Irish film "Rosie," author Roddy Doyle has written one of the angriest indictments of Irish society and its government ever committed to film
Roddy Doyle rose to international fame with books like "The Commitments" and "The Snapper," making working-class Dubliners his subject.
But the films that followed from these best-selling books all had English directors, people with an outside view of the Irish that led to outsized caricatures of us too.
Through the eyes of Stephen Frears and Alan Parker we were presented as earthy, lovable rogues, always ready with a snappy put down, always roaring our heads off in the local pub over the silly antics of our equally lovable neighbors.
“I can't get enough of those whacky Irish, and this film's got plenty,” wrote one American reviewer at "The Snapper"'s debut in 1993. We were seen – and we still are seen – as living somewhere between Darby O'Gill dancing leprechaun's and The Quiet Man's unapologetic sexism.
So good grief has Roddy Doyle changed his tone this go-around. In "Rosie," the most powerfully understated film of his career, he has written an eye-watering indictment of Irish society and its government that I have ever seen committed to film.
Maybe it's the result of an Irish director's clear-eyed viewpoint ("Rosie" is directed by Irish filmmaker Paddy Breathnach) or maybe it's the slow-burn performance of its two leads Sarah Greene, 34, and Moe Dunford, 31, but this new film is closer to Ken Loach than those saccharine early 90s efforts.
"Rosie" begins simply enough. A family of six led by Rosie (Greene) and John Paul (Dunford) have been living between places for two weeks after a landlord tells them he wants his property back (landlords can do this in Dublin, where tenants rights are often what landlords decide they will be).
Just like in New York City, gentrification means that families must make way for deeper-pocketed urban professionals, with no concern for what happens to the displaced when they are given an unceremonious heave-ho.
Having no time to prepare to find a new place Rosie and John Paul are forced to make phone calls in search of emergency accommodation. Sometimes it's just for a night, sometimes it's for a few nights, never is it permanent, however.
Falling on these kinds of hard times means falling on the tender mercies of Dublin City Council (who come in for a pasting in this film). Each time Rosie calls one of their listed numbers she is given the run-around, a victim of the seller's market where she and her young family of six last on the list of desirables.
Soon things begin to unravel. John Paul needs time off work as a dishwasher in a busy restaurant to help in the daily search for another roof over their heads, which leads to his employer getting aggressive about all the missing hours.
John Paul doesn't dare risk telling his employer that he's living in his car because he's afraid, actually more than afraid, he's terrified, of being labeled homeless (and becoming a non-person).
Doyle creates scene after to scene to show us just how quickly all this misfortune can lead to unnecessary, preventable disasters.
The kids in the local school are the first to figure out just how far the family has fallen, so they start referring to Rosie's second youngest daughter as “smelly Millie.” Does that put a mark of Cain on the child that eventually leads to the school principal asking Rosie straight out if they're all living in her car?
It's no small matter to be asked this, because it adds the threat of social services to the equation, placing the family that Rosie is desperately trying to keep together in serious danger of being split up. All she needs is the concern of some do-gooder to come in a place her kids in foster care, taking a hard situation and making it intolerable.
What happened to good old Irish compassion the film never once bothers to ask, because would any of this be happening to them if it good old Irish compassion still existed?
This isn't the gauzy warm family embrace of "The Commitments" or "The Snapper," it's a grey, cold, sobering portrait of how the Irish property market is failing the ordinary Irish renter, with life-altering consequences.
There are other big social breakdowns in the film that have nothing to do with house hunting. The relationship between Rosie and her mother has become strained to the point of snapping due to her claims about her late father.
It's suggested that he has abused her and her sister (who has moved away to Canada) years earlier, a suggestion her mother denies. That means her one route to safety is closed off because Rosie refuses to walk back her allegation, which is the price of shelter in her mother's house.
Greene is hypnotic as the courageous young woman who does everything right yet can't catch a break in the ruthless Irish property system that makes no room for good people who are trying to put their lives back together for a failure that is no fault of their own.
As John Paul, Dunford is the quiet backbone of the family who is torn up over his inability to do the one thing he considers his sacred duty, provide a safe home for his wife and family. Dunford matches Greene scene for scene in moments that will stay with you long after the film ends.
Aren't we supposed to know better than this, or be better than this, the film asks us? Don't we remember what it felt like to be made tenants in our own country?
Don't we know what happens when vulnerable people are sent out on the roads without warning? What sort of heartless people are we becoming? Carbon copies of the Anglo Irish landlords that once sent us all packing? Is that our future?
More than anything "Rosie" is a film about shame. The shame of being hard up, the shame of being unable to tell the truth about the dire situation you have found yourself in, the shame of needing help and knowing that asking for it will probably only make things worse.
"Rosie" is the flip side of the Irish economic boom, then. It's about all the families that don't make the cut in the heartless new Ireland that our new government has planned for us. Roddy Doyle has just held a bright polished mirror up to all that céad míle fáilte malarky.
The faces looking back at us these days don't look all that different to the faces that once sent us packing across the Atlantic in filthy coffin ships, unconcerned if we lived or died.
"Rosie" opens in the US on July 19.