The Snapper is a delight and a surprise. Its forerunner, Alan Parker's film of The Commitments (1991), translated novelist Roddy Doyle's rude poetry of everyday Irish life into an aggravatingly contrived story of working class dreams and struggles.
In this Doyle adaptation director Stephen Frears, working with a fraction of the resources he enjoyed on his American projects (Dangerous Liaisons , Hero ), creates an infectious comedy that is completely true to the author's populist spirit.
The film is an indelible portrait of a family which somehow holds itself together even as catastrophe strikes at its very core. The many members of the Curley household are effortlessly integrated into every ritual of local, community life – school, sports, the pub, the disco. When young Sharon (Tina Kellegher) announces that she is pregnant and intends to have the baby on her own, no one realizes what kind of small-town scandal she is actually hiding.
The focus of the story is on the family's father, Dessie (Colm Meaney, displaying a rich comic talent rarely glimpsed on Star Trek: The Next Generation). He is a bewildered bloke, unable to cope with even the simplest anatomical detail of his daughter's pregnancy, and tormented by the rumours he overhears at the pub. Miraculously, Dessie comes out of this crisis a changed man – particularly after the local library's copy of Everywoman teaches him a thing or two about female sexuality.
Doyle's script flaunts a certain political incorrectness in its riotous depiction of the mucky contradictions and paradoxes of a milieu he clearly loves. As a result, the film briskly sidesteps areas of social dysfunction too dark or troubling to be dissolved in a hearty laugh.
Frears, for his part, milks this rich material wonderfully, turning the cramped, domestic telemovie format to its fullest advantage. Every scene is a symphony of raucous noises, intrusions and tiny accidents.
Although there have been many self-conscious attempts of late to revive Hollywood's golden era of fast-talking wit, from David Williamson's Emerald City (1989) to The Coens' The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), it is paradoxically The Snapper, so bound to its own time and place, that has enabled Frears to fashion a true screwball comedy of immense appeal.
© Adrian Martin August 1994