The Snapper
directed by Stephen Frears
(BBC, 1993)

Films about Ireland usually pit the Irish against one of their two traditional enemies: The English or themselves. The Snapper falls into category two.

The trouble begins when Sharon Curley (Tina Kellegher) discovers she's in a family way, or rather divulges she's in a family way. It's a tidbit that doesn't sit well with, of all people, her family.

To make matters worse, Sharon, who's barely out of her teens and nowhere near married, won't reveal the name of the father, thus setting off concentric rounds of speculation that ripple through the neighborhood and nearly bring down two houses before the film's end.

The pressure gets so bad that Sharon eventually concocts an alibi that might have worked had she not waited until all of Barrytown had decided who the father was. And, to make matters still worse, decided accurately.

If all of this strikes you as funny, then you're probably the kind of person who tears one wing off of flies to watch them buzz in circles.

But if some of it strikes you as funny while some of it makes you want to strangle Sharon's neighbors, then you and director Stephen Frears are on the same wavelength.

Frears, who focused on the dark side of life in Dangerous Liaisons and The Grifters, finds a much lighter touch here, blending the twin elements of earth and air into a seriocomic mosaic of modern-day Irish life.

On one side we see Sharon, forced to sit on a train and endure the judgmental stares of men her own age, and on the other, the day-to-day workings of the well-populated Curley family, a sort of three-ring circus gone haywire.

Bridging the gulf between the two is the film's dialogue, which is incessantly realistic and frightfully funny. Witness the exchange between Sharon and her dad (Colm Meaney) as he tearfully tries to convince Sharon not to move out of the house:

Dad: I haven't cried since I was a kid.
Sharon: You cried during the World Cup.
Dad: Sober, Sharon, sober. Drunk doesn't count.

Frears makes the most of other small opportunities as well, cutting back and forth between Curley in the pub downing a beer and Sharon in the maternity ward nursing the baby, and having the postman sing "Return to Sender" as he delivers a note from the mystery father to his estranged wife. In fact, the whole film is riddled with pop-music commentary, some of it subtle, some of it not, but all of it on the mark.

The Snapper has its shortcomings. It's dialogue-heavy, with much of the banter heavily accented, making it hard to understand at least on this side of the ocean. And it's claustrophobic, with much of the action confined to the Curleys' kitchen and the local pub.

But as a study in fractured logic or psychological cruelty, or the fractured logic of psychological cruelty, The Snapper has few rivals.

And when Dad Curley starts belting out "The Theme from Rawhide" as he rushes Sharon to the maternity ward, The Snapper really gets rolling, rolling, rolling.

And never stops.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

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