Sunday 1 May 2022

On demand: "Rosie"

Twenty-odd years after his celebrated Dublin trilogy (
The Commitments, The Snapper, The Van), Roddy Doyle's return to screenwriting passed through mainland cinemas without much fanfare, more fool us. Rosie sees Doyle and director Paddy Breathnach (who himself broke through in the 1990s with the larky crime thriller I Went Down) teaming up to make the kind of social-issue drama with which Ken Loach and Paul Laverty have become associated over the past few decades; they've been pulled back into action by conscience, and an awareness of what and who's been left behind now the so-called Celtic Tiger economy has lost whatever roar it had. At the film's centre is a ragtag family who've found themselves priced out of their own home by their landlords, and so now roam in a car packed with their own possessions from one council-provided abode to the next, spending a night here and there while they wait for more permanent accommodation to show up. Like the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath, they're caught in an absurd position: migrants in their own country.

Doyle and Breathnach conceive their study of this clan as one continuous movement, because that's what this life must feel like: two uncertain nights, three barely less secure days, to paraphrase the Dardennes movie that must have inspired Cathal Watters' on-the-fly camerawork, during which ma Rosie (Sarah Greene) and her chef partner John Paul (Moe Dunford) have literally to go out of their way to put a roof over their young brood's heads. This entails the usual business of parenting and living - dropping the kids off at school, working a shift, picking the kids up, finding something to feed them with - but with an extra layer of admin bearing down on top of that (calls to housing providers, meetings with claims chiefs). Doyle's observations about this life therefore have to come in passing - there's no time to pause - but they're telling ones: this is one of those occasions where simply pointing a camera at a few frazzled corners of this world sets us to thinking about a situation most viewers won't have had the misfortune to consider. For one thing, Rosie has to drive her kids to school from a different startpoint each morning, so no wonder they arrive late, thus slipping only further behind life's clock. For another, you dolefully note how even John Paul's job at a high-profile restaurant is no longer enough to keep the wolves from the door - or, indeed, to own a door to put between his family and said wolves. This family's shelter is heavily dependent on others: a Lady GaGa concert means there's no room at certain inns on a Friday night. (And we note how, once again, free-market capitalism turns everything into a wearying competition, if not a deathly free-for-all.)

From all this to-ing and fro-ing, a vision emerges - bleak but coherent - of what happens when a society values leisure over the essentials of living. (Rosie bears out everything my Dublin associates have been saying the past few years: that the city's authorities are hellbent on building more hotels for tourists, when what's actually required - what's urgently required - is more affordable housing for its own.) There's one funny aside on Gilmore Girls, but otherwise Doyle's characteristic humour looks to have diminished - understandably, given the circumstances. His empathy and warmth have only increased, however, borne out in his portrait of Rosie as a woman of fierce pride - proud enough to repeatedly cover up the fact of her enforced vagrancy - coming to terms with the realisation she doesn't have enough, either financially or emotionally, to cover the basics. Backed up by impressively unguarded work from Greene and Breathnach's clear-eyed handling, this is a more honest film than the much-touted Herself, because the characters don't quite understand what's happened to them and can't speak from the perspective of its makers' privilege. That film - that story - was a one-off. Rosie carries us far closer to an awful new norm.

Rosie is now available to stream via the BBC iPlayer, and to rent via Prime Video, YouTube and the BFI Player.

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