The broadcast audio that opens Rosie tells us that in Ireland, like much of the western world, the rent is too damn high, to quote perennial New York gubernatorial candidate Jimmy McMillan. Working people, families, anyone struggling to get by on a modest income, can’t afford to rent, let alone buy, a home. Writer Roddy Doyle, whose novels and scripts including The Commitments and The Snapper offered humane and humorous portraits of working class characters, has crafted a moving, economical story from this grim situation.
Taking place over a taut 48 hours, Rosie (Sarah Greene), a young mother of four, spends much of the day in her car on her cell phone trying to find a place for the family to sleep while partner John Paul (Moe Dunford) works his restaurant job. With controlled desperation, she moves down the list of hotel numbers provided by social services. But she’s rebuffed again and again. Meanwhile, the kids have to be taken to school, then picked up and fed.
Greene delivers a naturalistic performance that’s moving but never sentimental as a loving mother holding it together, trying to be patient and pleasant but slowly losing control. Director Paddy Breathnach also gets natural performances, the opposite of Hollywood kid-cute, from all four youngsters: rambunctious Alfie (Darragh Mckenzie); Millie (Ruby Dunne) who’s being bullied at school; the eldest Kayleigh (Ellie O’Halloran) who sulks but dutifully does her homework in the car; and toddler Madison (Molly McCann).
When Rosie finally gets a yes from a hotel, for just one night only, it’s a victory. The family, joined by John Paul once he’s off work, checks in with clothes and belonging in bags. The next morning, it starts all over again.
Rosie captures the grind of being slowly but steadily squeezed by economic forces. How can the family look for permanent housing when each day is spent seeking shelter for the night and tending to needs as basic and finding a toilet for a toddler? Rosie tries to keep the kids on school schedules and hides from their teachers just how dire their situation is. She refuses to turn to her mother for help because, as we learn in one gut-punch of a scene, her mother refuses to believe that Rosie was abused by her late father. The walls are closing in on all sides.
Doyle and Breathnach convey this with scenes that take place in small confines: the car, a hotel room, a restaurant bathroom where the kids can brush their teeth, an alleyway near the North Dublin house that the family lived in happily for seven years before the owner decided to sell. Their world is shrinking. As much as these resilient parents try to hold onto their hope and their dignity, the film shows it being chipped away until the last heart-wrenching shot.
Like Ken Loach’s films, Rosie blends human heartbreak and social realism. Anyone living even remotely close to the edge likely understands that homelessness isn’t a moral failing but a widespread social problem created by economics and greed. But Doyle and Breathnach don’t preach or moralize; they’ve told a complicated story with elegant simplicity.