April 17, 2009

Garage (2007)
Grade: 84/100

Director: Leonard Abrahamson
Stars: Pat Shortt, Conor Ryan, Anne-Marie Duff

What it's about. Set in and near a small town in Ireland. Josie (Pat Shortt) is a simple fortyish man employed as a gas station attendant by a largely absentee owner (John Keogh). Josie is devoted to his tedious job, which also serves as his residence. In the evenings, after the gas station is closed, Josie "goes to town." There, he drinks at a pub with his equally lonely peers, where he is regularly hassled by a bully (Don Wycherley). He also makes small purchases at a shop tended by attractive thirtysomething Carmel (Anne-Marie Duff).

Life changes for Josie once the owner hires teenager David (Conor Ryan) to work at the gas station beside Josie. Josie tries to befriend David by relating to him as an adult, serving him beer and, ultimately, showing him a porno video. News of this makes it to David's parents, who inform the police. Life as Josie knows it is soon ruined.

How others will see it. Garage has been marketed in an unfortunate way, as a "tragicomedy" featuring a "mentally challenged" man. But it is not really a comedy, and while Josie is a simple man, he is of normal intelligence, or close to it. He does lack imagination, and probably dropped out of the Irish equivalent of high school. Anne-Marie Duff is given second billing despite a minor role. This was done to convey a misleading impression that the film has a significant romance element, or at least that it contains more than a handful of scenes with some level of eye candy.

For its first hour, Garage appears to be a film about nothing. Characters are established, and Josie's ultimate fate is gradually set up. But it is likely too slow moving for many viewers, although surprisingly, teenagers give it the highest user ratings. The Irish accents and dialogue are made more accessible to American viewers via subtitles.

Although obscure on this side of the Atlantic, Garage was acclaimed in Ireland. It won in the most important categories at the Irish Film and Television Awards, their equivalent of the Oscars. Pat Shortt is a well known comedian in Ireland, although the humor in his character here is at best understated.

How I felt about it. Josie identifies so closely with his job and community that he can hardly conceive of living someplace else, or doing something else. This leaves him little choice of action when his life falls apart at the end of the movie. From the point of view of the community, Josie has failed them. In truth, they have failed Josie.

They have interpreted innocent (albeit misguided) actions in a judgmental, strictly legal manner. Josie, the gentle blue-collar bloke, becomes a depraved corrupter of youth. This is partly a clash of culture. Josie has lived in a culture of male bonding that achieves intimacy through alcohol and a frank discussion of sex. Since he is oblivious to television, the internet, or newspapers, he is unaware of a segment of society that seeks to identify and punish potential molesters. But even had he never met David, Josie's downfall may have been inevitable, since he has shown an inability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Garage is unusual in that the characters, dialogue, and situations are realistic instead of cinematic. Writer Mark O'Halloran and director Leonard Abrahamson have put in nothing that appears out of place. That is, characters act and look like people instead of characters. The problem that such movies face is that they are likely to be boring. Garage avoids such problems by making its lead compelling.