Film Review: Turning Green

No amount of hanky-panky with the cast credits—i.e., giving Timothy Hutton top billing for a role that's little more than a walk-on—will beef up the box office for this sometimes sweet but invariably slight and old-fashioned coming-of-age tale

Although he lives in one of the most beautiful spots on God's green Earth—that being the west of Ireland—16-year old James (Donal Gallery) simply can't stand the place. Born in America to Irish parents, James and his little brother Pete were sent to the Emerald Isle after their mother's death, there to live with three old- maid aunts—your typical Irish church ladies who regularly have their parish priest over for dinner. Little wonder that James is bored out of his mind.

However, being a resourceful Yank, James is convinced he can someday make enough money to get himself and Pete back to Brooklyn. So he hangs out at the village pub—winning bets on how much he can drink (at 16!)—and works part-time as a collection agent for Bill the Bookie (Alessandro Nivola), whose other assistant, Bill the Breaker (Timothy Hutton), goes around beating up the locals who renege on their gambling debts. The enigmatic Tom (Colm Meaney), James' one true friend, gets beaten up a lot.

When he's not making his bet-collecting rounds, or at the pub drinking pints with Pete (who's 12!), James indulges in his favorite hobby—masturbation. In fact, he spends so much time alone in the bathroom, his aunties conclude he has a severe bowel problem and needs to see a specialist in London. While wandering around the big city James discovers—like a dog on the scent—a news kiosk specializing in girlie magazines. Porn, it seems, is one of the few evils not allowed in Ireland, and James's resourceful little brain immediately goes “Ca-ching, ca-ching.” Striking an export deal with the London magazine seller, James soon becomes the West of Ireland's leading purveyor of porn. Such a lucrative sideline naturally comes to the attention of Bill the Bookie, who is not amused by his protégé's success.

The resolution to James' story is as forced—and as pointless—as the film's title. Does Turning Green refer to an incident near the beginning when James gets sick (due to drink) and barfs all over Ireland's Atlantic cliffs? Or is it meant to convey that, in spite of himself, James turns Irish? And what's with Timothy Hutton's top billing for playing a greasy, nasty, empty-headed Irish goon? He has less screen time than the three aunts, and he's far less convincing. Nivola, however, is one American actor who can easily slide into other accents, and here he comes across as authentically Irish as the indomitable Meaney and newcomer Gallery, a lad with a future.

Of course, in real life, Gallery is no longer a lad. Turning Green was filmed in 2005—which should tell us something. And it tells us something else that the script by directors Michael Aimette and John G. Hofmann was one of the few submitted to the much-ballyhooed Project Greenlight that actually made it into production.