The Irish recession is becoming a fertile font for satire. Life’s a Breeze colorfully mines the impact of the financial crisis in the humorous tradition of 1990’s post-Thatcher British films like Peter Cattaneo’s The Full Monty (1997) and Mark Herman’s Brassed Off (1996), both set amidst similarly long unemployment lines. Writer/director Lance Daly freshly finds the heart within the slapstick and social criticism when he focuses on the oldest and younger generations.
Fionnula Flanagan, the white-haired, grand dame of Irish irascibility, is the crotchety grandmother Nan, who’s foisted on her teenage granddaughter Emma for daily caregiving visits. As in Daly’s Kisses (2008), he has found an expressive newcomer, here in Kelly Thornton as Emma, who has to navigate around mean girls at school and a large, financially strapped family at home.
Both are surprised to share a spirited cynicism. Nan is old enough to have seen booms and busts in government and relationships come and go, while Emma is young enough to have gotten used to being surrounded by Dublin’s depressing images of hardship. (The secretive Daly is also responsible for much of the lovely cinematography and the nonstereotypical Celtic score.) Only Emma’s mother, Margaret (Eva Birthistle), and a pet-grooming aunt have a regular income.
Nan’s house is packed to the ceilings like a hoarder’s. It’s also where she lives with her ne’er-do-well son Colm (locally popular comedian Pat Shortt, who was recently featured in the darker Calvary). Convinced that Nan is depressed and needs a change, the whole clan rallies to give her a big surprise: to empty out her house, clean and modernize it (and incidentally make room for another son and his family to move in).
While they pocket some sales, the family decides the bulk of it all deserves to be thrown in the trash. Returning from a girl-bonding day out with Emma, Nan is not amused and springs on everyone the shocking news that’s sure to appeal to their greed and schemes—stuffed in her old mattress is their legacy of nearly a million euros. While the metaphor for the country fits lightly, her suspicion of Irish banks sounds pretty valid.
This leads to the family’s It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World?like mattress hunt that follows garbage trucks and scavengers through the scrappy city and environs (though some scenes were filmed in Sweden), updated with talk radio, tabloid frenzy, and media madness. It leads to good-natured pranks to foment family unity, which leavens the social bite. Notoriety even makes Emma popular at school.
What are most effective, though, are the quiet scenes between grandmother and granddaughter at the center of the silly storm (Shortt’s dumb antics wear thin), as the elder woman finally and honestly reflects on the past and the younger enterprisingly pans the present for gold.