There’s acting and then there’s “acting.” The first requires building credible characters and relationships, developing organic conflicts within the framework of a concrete story. The second involves loading up a story with excessive clutter that it drowns out any work of which the actors are capable, turning them into drama automatons: it’s mostly reacting, both removing the burden of work from most performers while also placing a greater spotlight on their very presence, as they are forced to “react” instead of act. This also helps illustrate the difference between drama and melodrama.
That best captures the nature of “Run and Jump,” an Irish drama with a solid, touching central conceit. The first scene finds beautiful Vanetia (Maxine Peake) driving her husband home after a hospital stay following a stroke. Unfortunately, he’s now in a regressed mental state similar to a child; Conor (Edward McLiam) now stares off into the distance and babbles on in simplistic, unfinished sentences. Flashes of him are still present: a smile, a touch, a caring gesture towards his teenage son and preschool-aged daughter. But he’s very much like the tape player adapter in Vanetia’s car when she attempts to play CD’s: in the opening scene, she wails and smacks at it before it can properly play more than a snippet of The Magnetic Fields’ “The Sun Goes Down And The World Goes Dancing.”
The film’s peppy, eclectic soundtrack greatly adds to the mood upon visiting their house. Always stuffed with visitors, this small cottage in the village entertains guests sympathetic to Vanetia’s plight, though she doesn’t necessarily want sympathy. The family eventually settles into a rhythm: moody Conor toils in his woodshop, remembering his craft skills like a muscle memory. Meanwhile, Vanetia tends to the house and children, including a precocious daughter. Only son Lenny (Brendan Morris) has an extraordinarily rough time of it, as he keeps a secret about being bullied at school. At first it seems like he’s being hassled because of his father’s mental state. The suggestive magazine cut-outs dotting his walls of half-naked male swimmers, reflecting more than one of his interests, seems to tell another story.
Conor is also, in an unorthodox strategy, observed by an American doctor named Ted. Preparing a book on similar conditions, Ted is constantly peering around the corner with a video camera, observing the family dynamics and how this new Conor is fitting in. His detachment is borderline surgical, as he attempts to maintain his distance from family activity. When Vanetia finds a joint in his room, the situation changes: Vanetia realizes the dead-serious Ted is a kindred spirit, and the two of them enjoy after-hours snacks while everyone else is asleep, unaware that this might be something of a budding romance.
Which it really shouldn’t be, of course. Not just because Ted is a professional, but because their natural attraction doesn’t have to be any more than that, given that Vanetia clearly loves her family and husband, even in his vegetative state. In some movies, it almost seems like romance is a default setting for couplings of men and women, as if some of us couldn’t resist keeping it in our pants. What has been so well established by these actors is that Vanetia is devoutly close to her husband, while Ted is nothing if not married to his work.
“Run and Jump” has a similar difficulty with that third act shift, as if it’s simply too much drama to handle. The concern is, what is this film really about? The main focus bounces so heavily between Vanetia’s relationship with her husband, his growing awareness of his surroundings, and the budding feelings between Ted and Vanetia. By the time these all clash in the final 30 minutes, the actors, and characters, are barely given a chance to breathe. Perhaps that’s the significance of the title, a physical embodiment of the permutations of this particular story, though by the time we've reached the final scene, it’s made literal. As if the film is telling us that these well-acted plot complications were all designed to get us to this point, a film jerry-rigged with plot complications specifically for one dramatic release. Despite the affecting drama and performances, “Run and Jump” just never feels more that perfunctory in this regards. [B]
This is a reprint of our review from the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.