THE SNAPPER (UK, 1993) *** 1/2
At the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, "The Snapper" came as a relaxing break from often long, sometimes solemn --albeit good-- big films. A "small" movie made for BBC-TV, it was an instant crowd-and-critics pleaser and confirmed the saying that often "less is more."
The 1991 film "The Commitments", about young working-class Dubliners who form a band that plays older soul music, had been scripted by schoolteacher Roddy Doyle from his own novel, the first of his Barrytown (a fictional Dublin area) trilogy. The other two books were "The Snapper" and "The Van." Published soon after "Snapper-the-novie" came out, Doyle's "Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha" also got much attention. The writer is no longer a teacher, but his loquacious texts and scripts continue to educate us about the gifts of the Irish, including the gift of gab.
"The Snapper" gets down to brass tacks while you're still trying to settle in your seat. In the Curley home, 20-year old Sharon (Tina Kellegher), a supermarket clerk, the senior of six children, still unmarried, announces to her parents with no preamble that she's going to have a snapper (Irish for baby, kid, squirt). What would usually call for horrified or moralistic reactions, or turn into high drama, falls on exceptionally tolerant and sympathetic ears.
Although Sharon stubbornly refuses to reveal who the father is, there is no pressure, no coercion from Dad Dessie (Colm Meany) and Mom Kay (RuthMcCabe). Right away they close protective ranks around Sharon. Within minutes Dessie states that he needs a drink to recover from the shock ... and invites Sharon to join him at the pub.
The Curleys are a high-spirited, tightly-knit family. They live piled up in a small semi-detached house but put up with the congestion through patience, humor and bits of eccentricity. When Junior Sister practices baton-twirling in a garish, cardboard uniform, Dad asks her about her white beard. "Shaving foam" replies the child. "Ah" says Dessie, and lets it go at that.
Dad's life seems to be one of trips between home and pub, with endless talk in both. He imbibes generously with his companions, all regulars. Sharon and her girlfriends also have their table there. In times when, especially in North America, younger and older people hardly ever mix, it is wonderful, heart-warming to see different generations coming together!
Sharon and her pals come all tarted up in heavy makeup, coiffures and outfits that are presumably sexy in the eyes of the males of their social class. Their entertaining gossip is, of course, mostly about men. Jolly, caustic comments are delivered with gales of laughter, whinnies and giggles. It is a perfect reproduction of a certain milieu.
Without missing a beat, Sharon announces her pregnancy to her companions, as Dad does to his. Everyone understands and sympathizes. Language-consciousness being a quintessentially Irish trait --and treasure -- the pubsters turn everything into a maelstrom of words generally enhanced by expletives. In their mouths, the latter are not four-letter vulgarities but linguistic elements of style.
Not that the locals' vocabulary lacks standards. "Uterus" shocks Dessie; Sharon ridicules the maternity nurse for asking about her menstrual history ("why couldn't she say period?") and for saying "movements" instead of you-know-what.
Sharon has fleeting moments of despondence, but her plain, potatoish face mostly reflects an indomitable joie de vivre. For good reason too. Greater Dublin must have half a million inhabitants, but the Curleys are the particular citizens of a few hundred square meters where everyone knows everyone else -- and initially almost all are friendly to Sharon.
When, however, the father of the snapper is tentatively revealed ( I will not point him out and spoil your discovery) there is an abrupt reversal of fortune. Sharon loses the outsiders' support, is mocked and called names. As a red herring, she concocts a story in surreally absurd terms about a one-night stand with a Spanish sailor. Few are inclined to believe it, but a least the tall tale adds more humor to the situation.
All backing is not lost though. Sharon's best friend, the stalwart Jackie, stands by her and laughter goes on during outrageous moments. Dad, becoming increasingly closer to his pregnant daughter, shows far much more interest in the coming snapper than in the six previous deliveries by his sweet, wise and pretty wife.
The Curley household being bare of print materials -- even newspapers-- Dessie goes out and gets one book, about chilbirth. Entranced by the mysteries of sex and anatomy, he applies them with his bewildered spouse.
Stephen Frears is known for films like "The Hit," "My Beautiful Laundrette" (to which he winks as Dessie's truck passes by a large Laundrette sign),"Prick Up Your Ears," "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid," "Dangerous Liaisons," "The Drifters," "Hero." Those were bigger, fairly complicated, sometimes glossy and/or wild pictures. "The Snapper" on the other hand is a return to the incisive simplicity and the making of forceful points with concision that were found in the many Frears BBC-TV movies--excellent but unknown in the U.S.A.
As in most Frears telefilms, "The Snapper" sets up a plain, even simplistic milieu, zooms in on, and milks its colorful authenticity. With upbeat whimsy and humor, the director says a great deal about the people , their distinctive culture and life-views.
Cultivated, higher-class spectators may feel some depression or snobbery vis-a-vis the simple-minded Curleys and their friends, but the film's vibrant buoyancy sees to it that natural simplicity will overcome raised eyebrows.
The most un-intellectual "Snapper" is full of funny stuff. It goes non-stop through daily events and quirks, idiosyncrasies and affections, keeps adding good touches. Among them, the sad-sack yet comical none-too-bright fellow who had impregnated Sharon. He goes from utter insensitivity to maudliness --then becomes a pariah himself.
Dessie's evolution is a joy to behold. It is hard to realize that he is the same Colm Meany who plays O'Brien in" Star Trek, The Next Generation" and in" Deep Space Nine," which, pace the Trekkies, do not exactly strain expressivity.