After opening the doors to an impressive new acting career as Bruce Dern’s loyal son in the wonderful Alexander Payne film Nebraska, former Saturday Night Live comic Will Forte chalks up another refined and admirably nuanced turn in the Irish film Run & Jump. It’s not a progressive movie, and in my opinion, it has dubious chances of box-office success. But it’s sensitive and winsome, like a modestly budgeted independent film should be.
Set in the lush green beauty of County Kerry, Ireland, it tells the moody story of the once carefree Casey family, especially Vanetia (Maxine Peake), the devoted flame-haired wife and mother of two and the most vibrant colleen this side of Maureen O’Hara. Emotionally shifted off her axis when her 38-year-old husband, Conor (Edward McLiam), suffers a debilitating stroke that leaves his brain impaired and his children distraught, she carries on, dignified but penniless. Unable to continue his passion for carving wood and designing furniture, Conor spends a month in a coma and four more in rehab. When he returns, his personality is drastically altered, his family is confused, and Vanetia is forced to face the burden of coping with so much loss and maintaining a sense of optimism at the same time. The family’s reduced finances improve with the arrival of Dr. Ted Fielding (Mr. Forte), a California psychology professor who brings the family a nice survival sum for permission to write a scholarly research paper while observing and documenting Conor’s rare frontal-lobe damage. He stays two months and becomes a member of the family, and every life in the Casey home dramatically changes.
Agitated, unfocused and driven by the need to get his identity back, Conor confides. Explaining Conor’s emotional triggers, Ted gains the trust of the children. When son Lenny realizes he’s gay, it’s Ted he turns to for strength and compassion. Joining in small activities—riding a bike, sharing a joint, a trip to the zoo—the stranger from America is naturally drawn closer to the lonely Vanetia, and a romance becomes as inevitable as it is dangerous. The tensions widen to an emotional smash-up when life-altering decisions must be made.
Run & Jump is a handsomely made first film for director Steph Green, who co-wrote the poignant screenplay with novelist Ailbhe Keogan. She is a talent worth keeping an eye on. The script is ripe with hidden emotions that always boil just beneath the surface. The acting is graceful, and how often can you say that? For that matter, who knew Mr. Forte had so much restraint and understated elegance? The camerawork is gorgeous. It’s a lovely experience that takes its time observing its characters and allows the viewer enough space to get used to them. But alas, I guess it’s not everybody’s bowl of Irish stew. As much as I liked it, I have to admit Run & Jump is a work of no action—of love unrequited, feelings unexpressed and goals never reached. Sitting through it requires great patience. I don’t think this is an Ireland that would interest John Ford.
RUN & JUMP
WRITTEN BY Ailbhe Keogan
DIRECTED BY Steph Green
STARRING Maxine Peake, Edward MacLiam and Will Forte
RUNNING TIME 102 min.