Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Stella Days

Well-meaning and well-done for what it is: overly familiar material lacking in viewer allure.

June 21, 2012

-By David Noh


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1349548-Stella_Days_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

In 1950s small-town Ireland, Father Daniel Barry (Martin Sheen), stuck there against his will, struggles to bring change to a place mired in traditional Catholicism and an aversion to anything new, which even includes electricity. He yearns for a post in the Vatican library, but his superior, Bishop Hegarty (Tom Hickey), forces him to stay to raise funds for a new church. Barry, an amateur filmmaker and devotee of cinema, dreams of opening a movie house, but comes up against a powerful adversary in the fanatically conservative politician Brendan McSweeney (Stephen Rea), who not only loathes movies for their corrupt influence but also Barry himself, whom he accuses of base egomania.

There is also a subplot involving a parishioner, Molly (Marcella Plunkett), who struggles to raise her little boy Joey (Joseph Sullivan), alone, in the absence of her violent, wastrel husband. She takes in a lodger, Tim (Trystan Gravelle), who both befriends Barry through their mutual movie love and inspires romantic thoughts from his landlady.

With Stella Days, Thaddeus O’Sullivan has crafted an affectionate, seriously intended film with handsome photography and period production values, but it tends to meander and is not very exciting. Much of what he focuses on seems familiar from films dating back to Leo McCarey’s Going My Way, in which Bing Crosby also tried to instill modernism in the Church and was met by codgery antagonism. The romantic angle involving that single mother whose little boy is bent on becoming a priest himself also feels musty, as do the frequent moralizing debates between Barry and McSweeney. As if to amp up the riveting tension so lacking here, O’Sullivan ladles on a lot of intrusive music which is often a weird counterpoint to the elegiac quality of his scenes. Film clips are used from the Columbia studio back catalogue—Cover Girl, From Here to Eternity, It Should Happen to You – which only emphasize, with their varied vividness, how basically dreary this new film is.

Sheen gave a highly affecting performance in Da, another deeply Irish character study, but there his character was more the passive victim of Barnard Hughes’ impressively domineering patriarch. Barry is a different prospect, more forceful and determined in his perceived mission to change things up, but Sheen seems bland and lacks the necessary weight and dynamism to make him compelling. We are shown how he was forced into the priesthood as a child by his father in some rather clumsy, obvious flashbacks photographed in a drained palette “to suggest the past.” Sheen seems not so much tortured by this undesired life path as merely mournfully resigned. His interests in film and opera give his character some shading, but of the real, personal desires he may have also sacrificed, we aren’t given a clue. (He could have been gay, for all we know.)

The rest of the cast performs ably enough, and Rea seems to be thoroughly enjoying his intolerantly smug character. It’s a shame he and Sheen couldn’t have switched roles, as Rea might have better projected the inner, unswervable fire which drives this singular priest.


Film Review: Stella Days

Well-meaning and well-done for what it is: overly familiar material lacking in viewer allure.

June 21, 2012

-By David Noh


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1349548-Stella_Days_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

In 1950s small-town Ireland, Father Daniel Barry (Martin Sheen), stuck there against his will, struggles to bring change to a place mired in traditional Catholicism and an aversion to anything new, which even includes electricity. He yearns for a post in the Vatican library, but his superior, Bishop Hegarty (Tom Hickey), forces him to stay to raise funds for a new church. Barry, an amateur filmmaker and devotee of cinema, dreams of opening a movie house, but comes up against a powerful adversary in the fanatically conservative politician Brendan McSweeney (Stephen Rea), who not only loathes movies for their corrupt influence but also Barry himself, whom he accuses of base egomania.

There is also a subplot involving a parishioner, Molly (Marcella Plunkett), who struggles to raise her little boy Joey (Joseph Sullivan), alone, in the absence of her violent, wastrel husband. She takes in a lodger, Tim (Trystan Gravelle), who both befriends Barry through their mutual movie love and inspires romantic thoughts from his landlady.

With Stella Days, Thaddeus O’Sullivan has crafted an affectionate, seriously intended film with handsome photography and period production values, but it tends to meander and is not very exciting. Much of what he focuses on seems familiar from films dating back to Leo McCarey’s Going My Way, in which Bing Crosby also tried to instill modernism in the Church and was met by codgery antagonism. The romantic angle involving that single mother whose little boy is bent on becoming a priest himself also feels musty, as do the frequent moralizing debates between Barry and McSweeney. As if to amp up the riveting tension so lacking here, O’Sullivan ladles on a lot of intrusive music which is often a weird counterpoint to the elegiac quality of his scenes. Film clips are used from the Columbia studio back catalogue—Cover Girl, From Here to Eternity, It Should Happen to You – which only emphasize, with their varied vividness, how basically dreary this new film is.

Sheen gave a highly affecting performance in Da, another deeply Irish character study, but there his character was more the passive victim of Barnard Hughes’ impressively domineering patriarch. Barry is a different prospect, more forceful and determined in his perceived mission to change things up, but Sheen seems bland and lacks the necessary weight and dynamism to make him compelling. We are shown how he was forced into the priesthood as a child by his father in some rather clumsy, obvious flashbacks photographed in a drained palette “to suggest the past.” Sheen seems not so much tortured by this undesired life path as merely mournfully resigned. His interests in film and opera give his character some shading, but of the real, personal desires he may have also sacrificed, we aren’t given a clue. (He could have been gay, for all we know.)

The rest of the cast performs ably enough, and Rea seems to be thoroughly enjoying his intolerantly smug character. It’s a shame he and Sheen couldn’t have switched roles, as Rea might have better projected the inner, unswervable fire which drives this singular priest.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

E-Team
Film Review: E-Team

Four international human rights investigators descend on political atrocities to determine accountability. More »

Laggies
Film Review: Laggies

Disappointing comedic entry about a late-20s slacker who won’t grow up is writer/filmmaker Lynn Shelton’s first outing directing someone else’s material. Points here for strong cast and an occasional chuckle, but otherwise there’s just no point. More »

Rudderless
Film Review: Rudderless

Well-done indie drama about a lost-soul house painter reborn through rock ’n’ roll is a nice actor’s showcase for star Billy Crudup and an impressive directorial debut for actor William H. Macy. But in spite of some good work onscreen, both hero and story lack the edge and originality to carry this drama beyond respectability. More »

Camp X-Ray
Film Review: Camp X-Ray

Army guard and Guantanamo detainee form a grudging relationship in a thoughtful but far-fetched drama. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Fury Review
Film Review: Fury

American tanks fight superior German forces in the closing days of World War II. More »

Birdman
Film Review: Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Virtuosic camerawork and a stellar ensemble of actors more than make up for the occasional moment of portentous twaddle in Alejandro G. Iñárritu's latest—and maybe his best—film. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here