Patrick’s Day – Review by Cormac Fitzgerald
Writer/Director: Terry McMahon
Starring: Moe Dunford, Kerry, Fox, Catherine Walker, Philip Jackson
It’s March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day, and also Patrick Fitzgerald’s 26th birthday and his mother has checked him out of the mental hospital to spend the day and night in Dublin. Dublin City is alive with celebrations and festivities and Patrick (played by Moe Dunford) and his mother Maura (Kerry Fox) enjoy the atmosphere before getting separated in the crowds. Patrick, a diagnosed schizophrenic, wanders back to the Gresham hotel where they were staying. There he meets Karen (Catherine Walker), an older air hostess with plans to commit suicide that night. Karen is looking for one more night of fun and so the two get drunk and, eventually, sleep together. For Patrick, it’s losing his virginity, for Karen, one last fling before she shoves a cocktail of pills into her mouth to end it all.
Her suicide attempt is thwarted however, when Patrick’s mother bangs down her door to give out to her for robbing her son of his innocence. This is the springboard for Patrick’s Day’s plot – an ambiguous exploration of living (and loving) with a mental illness and what it means for those who suffer and those who care for them. Patrick is smitten with his new found love but his controlling and over-protective mother doesn’t approve. And she might have a point: though tall and strong Patrick behaves more like a child – he stashes sweets behind his bed, avoids making eye contact with others and seems in need of constant care. But beneath those innocent child eyes are flashes of violence, lust and anger that occasionally burst out. This is the balance that writer/director Terry McMahon must strike: between the need for freedom and love and the grim reality of living with a mental illness. For the most part, he pulls it off.
Moe Dunford is fantastic as Patrick. He conveys so much in expressions, tones and noises – a childish smile or a moan of displeasure – that it he is instantly and completely believable. Playing a character with a mental illness is never easy, but Dunford ably pulls it off, making Patrick sympathetic without ever sentimentalising or trivialising. Kerry Fox is also impressive as the controlling and manipulative mother who will go to any length to protect her son from himself. But despite her increasingly questionable actions, McMahon resists the all too familiar caricature of the evil mother in favour of a more balanced, complete character.
Unfortunately, the rest of the supporting cast don’t really measure up. Karen Prescott appears more as an object of Patrick’s affection than a fully fleshed out character herself. We’re told she’s damaged and dangerous, but no background information whatsoever and hackneyed one-liners never give the audience anything other than what we’re repeatedly told. Police officer John Freeman (Philip Jackson), enlisted by Maura to help find Patrick, acts more as a device to fill out her character than as an actual person himself. A hasty background sketch and a bizarre desire to be a stand-up comedian only serve to obscure him to us more. Indeed, McMahon seems more suited to direction rather than script: measured, drawn out camerawork with interesting point of view angles and a gentle and at times uplifting soundtrack (Damien Dempsey features regularly) help bring home the emotional message of the movie more so than the script which can fall a bit flat.