The Young Offenders kills it at the Irish box office
This year’s Toronto Irish Film Festival, was, for lack of a better term, great craic.* The festival took place between March 3rd to 5th, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Five feature-length Irish films were screened, along with various animated and live action shorts. Among them, The Young Offenders. If you have a sense of humour, this film will have you in hysterics. From Irish director Peter Foott, the film is about two 15-year-old boys—Jock (Chris Walley), the “criminal” mastermind, who hides his identity by wearing a mask, and Conor (Alex Murphy), his obedient best friend. Based on the true story of a drug trafficking boat gone overboard at Mizen Head, County Cork in 2007—with 440 million euros worth of drugs in tow— he film follows Jock and Conor as they bike 120 kilometres to steal a bale of cocaine. Along their journey, they are pursued by Sergeant Healy, who has a penchant for arresting Jock for bike theft. The film includes; Conor’s cynical mother, Jock’s abusive father, a criminal looking for revenge, and an angry drug-dealer. These characters, despite the heavy themes and their troubling nature, all contribute to the film’s non-stop humour.
The Young Offenders seems, at first, little more than an Irish comedy, and while it undoubtedly succeeds here, it also surprises by weaving darker elements into its predominantly comic exterior. It excels where movies that also contain representation of unpropitious subject matter, like Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting or Kevin Allen’s Twin Town’s, falter.
First, Conor’s mother, Mairead (Hilary Rose), feels the need to take on roles of both mother and father but this causes her to be an inadequate parent. Her face is in a permanent scowl, and it seems unlikely that any cheerful words could ever escape her lips. However, just when this view is being solidified in our minds, she surprises the audience, and Conor himself. Mairead’s tear-filled praise, although simple, signifies a parental love, hidden underneath her hard exterior. It is from this brief exchange that we begin to see a pattern; for every unsettling component presented in the film, there is a corresponding moment of resolution.
Second, there is an obvious incompetency in the police force, which is shown by the Sheriff’s disinterest in essentially everything. In spite of this disheartening incompetency, the audience is given hope in the form of Sergeant Healey. Although he is originally painted as the antagonist, we eventually realize that he is to be trusted and loved for his desire to seek justice and maintain social order.
The third, and most worrisome, element is Jock’s abusive, alcoholic father. At the end of the film, which is filled with sequences of his abuse and alcoholism, the controversy is resolved when Sergeant Healey witnesses Jock’s abuse and says “I think I just found my new hobby,” signaling an assumed move from bike thieves to child abusers.
There is, however, another element that is slightly more difficult to untangle. The Irish Times wrote that the disabled drug dealing bad-guy is the only element of the film not funny enough to avoid offence. However, I believe it to be a relatively successful attempt at subverting a common stereotype—something in which national cinema seems to constantly be interested. Viewers are given one trop when it comes to disabled people: the kind, gentle and passive “cripple” in need of a caretaker. This has always been problematic for its objectifying inflections, suggested by the fact that these characters are typically denied agency. Instead of adhering to this role, The Young Offenders offers an alternative by giving agency to the crippled drug-dealer—agency that acts as a catalyst to the story.
All in all, The Young Offenders wittingly combines the bleak and absurd. It’s not very often that a comedy is capable of introducing unfavourable realities without compromise. It’s already obvious that The Young Offenders will be regarded as one of the most successful Irish films ever made. So, is it worth watching? Well, to use Jock’s wise words, “I dunno boy. Why are you asking me these questions like?” Now that the film is on Netflix, you have to go see it for yourself.
*Borrowed from the English word “crack,” and then reintroduced into the English language with the Irish spelling, “craic” is a versatile term exchangeable with multiple expressions. One example appears in the film when Conor says his mam is “always having the craic with [Jock],” meaning she is constantly joking around with him.