Does a film need to strive for originality when it executes its premise so confidently? As the credits rolled on Don’t Talk to Irene, I couldn’t help but compare it to the raft of quirky indie comedies that have seemingly become a subgenre in and of themselves ever since Little Miss Sunshine made waves back in 2006. Yet I still had the biggest smile on my face, and came away thinking it was amongst the strongest films I had seen at the Glasgow Film Festival thus far.
Irene (Michelle McLeod) is a teenage girl living with her single mother. All she wants is to be a cheerleader (like her mother was) but finds that everybody thinks she can’t because, in the film’s own words, she’s fat. After an altercation involving some particularly vindictive members of the cheerleading squad, Irene is suspended and finds herself doing community service in a care home for the elderly, where she convinces the residents to join her in making their own cheer squad. Yes, it does sound quite formulaic, and yes, it is an utterly absorbing and heart-warming ride.
Despite a strong ensemble cast of memorable characters, the film is anchored by McLeod in the title role. Irene is confident, esoteric and admirably determined in her goals. She speaks to a poster of Geena Davis for guidance (no, that is not a joke, and these scenes are played to great comedic effect by Davis herself) and her effervescent spirit inspires the characters surrounding her to let go of their own cynicism and strive to achieve something, anything, with their lives.
However, Irene isn’t an infallible font of knowledge, and supporting characters are also afforded room for growth. The interaction between Irene and her mother (Anastasia Phillips) shows a strained relationship; a mother who regrets her past decisions and genuinely wants better for her daughter, but who perhaps goes about it the wrong way. Irene herself is vulnerable and is hurt by the actions of those who try to put her down, but always rises to her feet to challenge them. The residents of the care home display a forlorn sense of sadness for how their twilight years are being spent (in-between humorous barbs at one another) and even the manager (Scott Thompson) possesses a layer of depth on top of ostensibly a throwaway comedy character.
It’s this care and attention to character that makes Don’t Talk to Irene stand out against its peers. Thought and consideration has been given to its characters, making a familiar tale of triumph over adversity into something for more memorable. It’s a real treat.
Don’t Talk to Irene was out on general release in the UK on 27th February 2018.