There are few words that can strike fear – or at least a sinking feeling – into the hearts of a reviewer quite as much as three little words, starting with “An” and ending in “Irish comedy”.
As such, I didn’t have much hope for Belfast- set Grace and Goliath (Cert PG, 93 mins) when I went to its premiere last week, other than a vague interest in seeing some of Northern Ireland’s striking beauty captured on film.
However, I was dead wrong, as the film turned out to be way better than expected – and also featured my favourite scenes from an actress (Olivia Nash) this year, of which more anon.
(It’s worth noting that the film isn’t out just yet, but with the premiere out of the way you should expect to see this on screens very soon.)
Hollywood hotshot Josh (Emy Aneke) arrives in Belfast to the starstruck adoration of the locals, not least the hotel staff where he’s staying as he scouts for a new project.
One quick cash-flow problem later, however, and Josh is forced to rely on the blunt but kindly nature of no-nonsense hotel cleaner Lily (Nash), who lets him stay with her family.
That includes separated daughter Melody (Aoibhinn McGinnity), mum to the eponymous little girl, Grace (Savanna Burney Keatings) and Grace’s two bigger brothers.
In the background lurks Markus (Ciaran McMenamin) the boys’ frosty dad and the hotel’s snippy manager, and a variety of characters for whom ‘madcap’ would be a distinctly underwhelming term.
Down on his luck, stuck in a strange country and culture, and slumming it with some very ordinary people, Josh is forced to learn some life lessons, while his own secret reasons for coming to Belfast aren’t just about looking for a new film project.
It’s not long before events veer off into dramedy territory, but in an effective way that made a powerful impression …
Let me get this out of the way: actress Olivia Nash should be on the look-out for the PSNI when she’s at home in the North, ’cos she absolutely stole the show here with a great turn as the frequently hilarious, occasionally rude, and earthily believable supermum and supergran, Lily.
Coming in at a close second place was Aoibhinn McGinnity, who shone on screen with a magnetic, very natural performance.
The two actors had a chemistry together as mum and daughter that was solid cinema gold, making them both very easy to root for, with both impressing on screen as much as any A-lister I’ve seen this year.
Some memorable supporting characters also livened the pace, bringing to mind some of the zaniness of the Australian new wave films that were such a global hit in the 90s.
While at times the film followed some conventional tropes, that’s fine, as the central conceits and storyline were involving in their own right.
I didn’t care for some aspects of the film – for example, as all grown-ups know, having to watch children dancing is either always excrutiating or utterly charming (if they’re related to you), so some such occasional dance sections left me cold.
However, the handsomely shot film and some lovely drone shots capturing the North, as well as some hilarious Norn Irish jokes and jibes, made Grace and Goliath a very decent film from Cinemagic.
And, as Nash earned two points from me for her memorable role alone, that brings my score to …