Run and Jump
★★★★ (Out of 5)
“I’VE MISSED you in my bed,” the vivacious Vanetia whispers to her dashing husband Conor in the award-winning family drama Run and Jump, a movie that illustrates the binds that tie families together and how they can be almost unbearably strained.
An original, subtle, yet forceful film, the story centres on a young family feeling the after-effects when its thirty-something husband and father (Conor) suffers a stroke.
Set in rural Kerry, Run and Jump is directed by Steph Green from a script by Ailbhe Keogan (both making their feature debuts) and gives revealing insight into the particular pressures put upon Vanetia, the family’s optimistic but over-stretched wife and mother.
The film won Best Irish Feature at Galway in July and has featured this year at the Tribeca, New York and San Francisco film festivals and will be screened at this week’s Irish Film Festival London.
As yet there’s no indication of a general cinema release, so this will be a rare chance to see a thoughtful and humane movie.
Vanetia is played by Maxine Peake, an affective blend of worry and bravado, while Edward MacLiam is Conor, a credible mix of moody aloofness and sullen presence.
Initially thrilled by Conor’s homecoming from hospital, Vanetia soon finds that instead of regaining her husband she’s been delivered of another child along with her son and daughter.
Conor, a skilled carpenter before his stroke, takes no interest in his fatherly role and instead begins fretting over work tools, and squabbling with his son Lenny and calling him “faggot”.
An added disruption within the family hearth comes in the shape of Ted (Will Forte), a handsome neuroscientist who’s studying Conor’s recovery.
As Ted follows Conor around with a hand-held camera, his initial awkwardness is merely physical — “Can I get in front of you, there?” — but as he and Vanetia develop an unlikely friendship, he begins to appear more emotionally intrusive.
When Ted stirs the interest of Vanetia’s attractive sister Tara (deftly played by Sharon Horgan), this highlights the rising sexual tension in the picture.
With understated performances, the cast ably depict the moral dilemmas facing all the characters and the hovering sense of conflicting loyalties.
With simple pathos, the movie slowly reveals Vanetia’s twisted feelings, caught between the insistence of her desires and the demands of caring for her family.
Viewers also see the ambiguous nature of the extended family. Ruth McCabe and Michael Harding play good supporting roles as Conor’s parents and Vanetia’s in-laws, whose own concerns tread a grainy line between assistance and interference.
Meanwhile, young newcomer Brendan Morris is impressive as Lenny, a lad losing his dad but finding his troubled emerging sexuality.
The narrative’s only weakness is a continuing uncertainty that appears in Irish cinema, characterised by a residual reluctance to let the images tell the story.
There’s a habit sometimes of inserting unnecessary dialogue, when silence would convey stronger meaning and it’s a hangover from our cultural history as a verbal rather than a visual people.
That said, Run and Jump contains some clever imagery, particularly in the colour yellow — the house, the car, Vanetia’s hair — which is supposed to represent transition.
There’s also a poignant recurring motif in objects symbolising tactility, such as Conor’s obsession with crafting wood into the shape of human hands, a nuanced reflection upon the difficulties of physical presence and emotional distance.
This is a strong story, conveyed with a delicate touch.
Run and Jump screens on Sunday, November 24 at Riverside Studios, London, as part of the Irish Film Festival London