9th Jameson Belfast Film Festival review
Cherrybomb. This is supposed to be a Northern Irish film, isn’t it? So how come we got to the end and I never worked out who was the ‘Prod’ and who was the ‘Taig’? I’ve a fair idea about somebody called “Malachy”, and have my suspicions about “Luke”, but “Michelle” could go either way, and indeed does in a manner of speaking when she catches the eye (eyes too close together?) of the two boys and decides to play one off the other, but which side of the religious divide does she end up falling for, presuming there even is one? I’m confused – Northern Irish films aren’t usually this difficult to work out. Well, it’s got “bomb” in the title at least...
Evidently, in the light of the new multicultural metropolis that is modern-day Belfast, Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn almost go out of their way in Cherrybomb not to encourage this kind of lazy stereotyping and easy-categorisation that Northern Irish cinema all too often falls into, which means that it is perhaps not entirely honest about the everyday realities of teenage lifestyles on the streets of Belfast (although any firsthand experience I would have of it is a very long time ago indeed), but it is certainly refreshing to see. Unfortunately – and this is something I never thought I’d say about a film made in Northern Ireland – there’s a twinge of regret at the lack of the political context, so studiously avoided here, that means the film could have been made just about anywhere in the UK and be nothing more than about teenagers in general. And why not? There are hints and suggestions however that there could be a little more to the film than this, but I’ll get to that later.
Seen solely from the point of view of a teenage drama however and even there Cherrybomb plays very well indeed. It’s got a dream teen cast – all the main leads are superb and, although none are native to the province, each acquit themselves almost flawlessly as far as Northern Ireland accents are concerned. It’s smart and flashy, with text messages flying around the screen in clever graphics (although admittedly in far more comprehensible and grammatically correct English than your average SMS message), a hip-and-cool David Holmes soundtrack, and a pace that is right in tune with its presumably target teenage audience. It doesn’t talk down to them either, but relates to them on a level and about everyday subjects that they can surely recognise – the age-old problem of where boys and girls can go to get drunk, score some dope and get off with each other, while also having to pay for the consequences with their parents.
One of the 16 year-olds at the centre of this teen drama is Malachy (Rupert Grint), who, presumably during the summer while waiting on his exam results, works at the Titanic Leisure Complex (did you know that the Titanic was built in Belfast? Not many people do, but we try our best to get the message out there to potential tourists) under the strict regime of David Crilley (James Nesbitt). His family are a bit middle-class and clingy, a bit of an embarrassment for a young 16 year old boy who would rather be out drinking, smoking and shagging girls. He’s aided and abetted in this lifestyle by his too-fucking-cool-for-this-planet friend Luke (Robert Sheehan). Luke is also worried that his family will embarrass him, but it’s more because his neglectful and alcoholic father (Lalor Roddy) could turn up at his regular nightclub venue and cause a ruckus.
Embarrassment is the last thing these two boys want when a sixteen-year-old wild-child vision on shapely legs turns up at the Titanic Leisure Complex one day in the form of Michelle Crilly (Kimberley Nixon), who just happens to be the daughter of the boss, recently moved back to the province and back in with her dad after being in England with her mother for a number of years. Michelle is a bad, bad girl, and the only way one of these two boys is going to impress her is by proving which one of them is the baddest.
Now, you could be all very moral and upright and claim that Cherrybomb condones and even glamorises teenage drinking, delinquency, drug abuse (hard drugs too) and underage sex, with even paedophilia made rather light of in Crilly’s office antics with Michelle’s friend Donna (Niamh Quinn) - but there’s no point in denying that it doesn’t happen either and it’s not Trainspotting by any means. Younger audiences however will I’m sure, if they are anything like the characters in the film, take this all in their stride and in a mature fashion, and feel rather more comfortable than myself with the sight of young heartthrobs like Rupert Grint, Robert Sheehan and Kimberley Nixon running around semi-clothed for fair portions of the film.
Fabulously directed, well scored and impressively performed, there is however nothing in the storyline at all to distinguish Cherrybomb from numerous other teen vehicles of the like of Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (I would imagine, though I can’t honestly say I’ve seen that particular film), and certainly little to associate it with its Northern Ireland roots. You could certainly read something into the family backgrounds of the two boys - Luke in particular seeming to come from a family of headcases no doubt formerly mixed up in paramilitary activities, but now having a more respectable front for their activities - but these kind of family backgrounds that stem back to the troubles are only alluded to in the most general of manners and similar generational differences could also applied to just about anywhere in the UK.
And perhaps that’s just what Cherrybomb is saying - that Northern Ireland teenagers, those who have grown up knowing nothing of the troubled past, are now no different from teenagers in any part of the UK, and they may even, on the very persuasive evidence of this film, be even cooler than most. The past which may have once held the province back, represented in the characters of the hopelessly provincial and small-minded parents, is of no concern to this generation that is part of a modern global hi-tech world. It’s something to celebrate then that this change now allows Northern Ireland filmmakers to make films as slick, sharp and professional as this that can stand comparison with the best in the world, but while there’s no way I’d like things to go back to how they once were, I’d swap your Victoria Square for a Smithfield Market any day.