There’s something about watching Irish based films that just makes you want to start cursing. Usually it’s an after-effect of listening to two hours of Irish speaking, where every other word isn’t fit for printing here. Unfortunately, after watching Intermission the urge comes from the film itself, which comes so close to being something everyone who sees it will talk about, but instead, like a poor marksman misses its target.
The ad campaign for Intermission claims “Life is what happens in between”. After seeing the film I have to wonder where the marketing people got this idea. There is no “in between” in Intermission. The entire movie is about events in the lives of the people it focuses on, but very little about what happens in between. Sometimes I think marketing people just smoke crack and write down whatever they think of, attaching it to movies they can’t come up with a real tagline for.
Intermission boasts fifty-four characters and eleven storylines, so summing up the film isn’t exactly easy to do. The film focuses on the lives of a lot of miserable people, some who’ve just gotten out of a relationship, others who have found love, and others who have found love from the people who are just out of relationships. Tossing a general theme of romance and despair out the window, the movie also tells the story of a villainous thief, and a hard ass street cop. All of the characters are miserable though, whether in love, out of love, or having nothing to do with love.
The film’s cast reads like a who’s who of Irish actors who wouldn’t be found in a Richard Curtis rom-com. Colin Farrell plays the thief we’re introduced to in the film’s first moments, Colm Meany is the street cop who gets kicks off of literally pissing on Farrell’s thief. Cillian Murphy’s John is fresh out of a relationship with Kelly MacDonald’s Deirdre, leaving her open to explore a new relationship with Michael McElhatton's Sam (who is being stalked by Farrell's Lehiff). Shirley Henderson plays Sally, Deirdre’s mustached sister who had what was probably the worst breakup of all time and is now jaded towards the whole concept of love. As you can see, most of the characters are linked through relation or relationship, and the few who aren’t are thrown together through circumstance. What’s nice about this is the movie doesn’t spell out how characters are connected most of the time. It’s up to you as an audience member to see the waitress with a bandage over her nose and realize it’s the same one Colin Farrell punched early in the film. This provides a lot of fun early in the film, trying to guess how different characters will be linked.
Unfortunately, even though the film does a brilliant job of weaving its fifty-four characters together in an almost Pulp Fiction manner, eleven storylines are just too much for the film, especially with none of them really stepping to the front as a primary story. Instead of an “A” plot and “B” plot and “C” plot, you have eleven stories fighting for attention. It asks a lot of the audience to keep track of, although that’s not my complaint about it, because while it is asking a lot, I don’t think it’s too much. My complaint is that with eleven storylines vying for attention, none of them are fleshed out enough. While all of the stories may have one or two elements, none of them have a solid setup, climax, and resolution. Some of the stories have very little in the way of resolution at all, making the time spent within those stories feel like a waste of time, and leaving the viewer unsatisfied at the end. If “life is what happens in between” the beginning and ending of this movie, then we should at least leave the film feeling something for these characters, whether it be joy, or sorrow, or (most likely given the characters) sympathy and pity. Instead the film is like opening a window on these people’s lives for a brief period of time and then closing it abruptly. We don’t know what’s going to happen for these characters in the future, but then, our exposure to them is so abrupt, we don’t care. It could possibly be argued that each character is an archetype - Lehiff’s the villain, Sally represents a jaded wisdom, John’s the naive man who doesn’t know what he wants, etc. Like the film as a whole, it’s an interesting argument, but with no emotional attachment to the characters or story, even that doesn’t work.
I think Intermission is a great first attempt from writer Mark O’Rowe and director John Crowley, but as a film it’s a bit ambitious, attempting to tell too many stories with too many characters within too short a time. The visual style of the film, and the way it attempts to weave its characters are both quite brilliant, but the end result comes up short because we never feel attached to the story we are watching. Still, I’ll be interested to see what these first timers might come up with in the future.
If Intermission the movie is a disappointment, then Intermission the DVD release is even more so, because the movie is pretty much the only thing the DVD has going for it. With almost no extras whatsoever, if you don’t enjoy the movie, you’re pretty much out of luck.
The only extras to speak of are deleted scenes... two deleted scenes to be specific. Both scenes revolve around John’s crummy supermarket job. One shows a fight John and his buddy Oscar (David Wilmot) were planning in order to win back Deirdre, and the other deals with John's grumpy American-phrase spouting boss, Mr. Henderson. Neither scene adds much of anything to the movie, and as I can’t believe they were the only two moments cut out of this film, I can’t understand why they were selected to be included in the DVD release. The only other bonus material is the film’s theatrical trailer. At least that was included!
While this isn’t the type of movie that would have the most fascinating “making of” documentary, I’m very disappointed not to have a commentary track by the writer and/or director. As I said, I think this was an ambitious first attempt by O’Rowe and Crowley, and I would have liked to hear what they had to say about their first filmmaking endeavor - problems they ran into, obstacles, how they managed to aquire such a talented and popular cast... that sort of thing. It does make me wonder if we should expect a bigger release of Intermission at some point down the road.