ROISE AND FRANK – Review by Maitland McDonagh

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Bereaved adults, lonely children and a homeless dog who just might be the reincarnation of a man whose widow is still little better than a corporeal ghost two years after his demise: I’m not going to say that only in Ireland could this mix be the stuff of gentle comedy, but were it bought for a Disney remake you can bet your bottom dollar that it would undergo a major overhaul to get the bittersweet stuff out… and once upon a time Disney was the studio that killed Bambi’s mother.

In any event, the widow is Roise (Brid Ni Neachtain), two years into her bereavement and still not sure she’s ever going to find something that’s truly worth getting out of bed for. To be fair, she does get out of bed every day, runs errands and chats with friends and neighbors. But her heart isn’t in it until she the day she encounters a stray dog while out on her picturesque morning constitutional: The dog’s a sweetheart, with a cairn terrier’s wiry beige coat and a meltingly gentle pair of brown eyes; he doesn’t seem to belong to anyone, but everyone falls in love at first sight. Roise names him Frank, much to her adult son Alan (Cillian O’Gairbhi)’s dismay, a discomfort that isn’t alleviated when he discovers that canine Frank has taken over late-dad Frank’s side of the bed. Neighbor Doncha (Lorcan Cranitch) isn’t thrilled either; he’s harboring an age-appropriate crush on Roise and it doesn’t take him long to see that canine Frank is a formidable rival… he’s so fecking cute, and the very definition of a good dog. Just ask young Maidche (Ruadhan de Faoite), a skinny little ginger who loves soccer but can’t get a break from his bigger, sportier classmates until Frank invites himself to join the local hurling team–it’s sort of like soccer, which is all you need to know–and positively kills on the field in the sweetest possible way.

So yes, writer/director team Rachael Moriarty and Peter Murphy’s Roise and Frank is a feelgood movie from its cold, black nose to its ever-wagging tail. But it has just that touch of bracing awareness that life can be short and happiness is often dusted with a coating of the bittersweet reality for which Irish comedies are either famous or notorious, depending on how you like your laughs. Suffice it to say that doggie Frank does not die–I’d say spoiler alert, but from where I stand there’s no spoiling in being able to watch a dog movie without worrying that the most likable member of the cast will make it to the end–and that even the bittersweet turns of events in this scruffy-dog tale won’t spoil your day.

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Maitland McDonagh

Formerly's senior movies editor/reviewer, Maitland McDonagh now has her own site, Miss, and freelances for Film Comment, Time Out NY and other publications. She has written four books -- Broken Mirrors Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento, Filmmaking on the Fringe, The 50 Most Erotic Films of All Time and Movie Lust -- and contributed to many others, including Film Out of Bounds, Fantasy Females, The Last Great American Picture Show and Exile Cinema. Read McDonagh's recent artilces below. For her Women On Film archive, type "Maitland McDonagh" into the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).