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When Brendan Met Trudy

Director: Kieron J. Walsh
Cast: Peter McDonald, Flora Montgomery, Marie Mullen, Pauline McLynn, Don Wycherly

(Shooting Gallery; 2000)

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He Always Wanted a Pool


When Brendan Met Trudy wields movie trivia like a weapon, and for a good while, this too-cool-for-school strategy works. The film opens, for instance, on an overhead shot of a man’s body, sprawled in a gutter and drenched with rain, as his voice-over recites the first few lines of Sunset Boulevard... “The poor dope, he always wanted a pool. Well, in the end, he got himself a pool.” You could call this gutsy, to quote such a famous and famously great movie. You could even say that the twists offered here are intriguing: the body obviously isn’t floating in a pool, and, you soon learn, it isn’t dead.


Actually, Brendan (Peter McDonald) is just coming alive at this point in his story, which he tends to imagine in self-involved, first-person-narrated, and grandly wide-screen terms. His immediate crisis is triggered by the fact that his amazing and vivacious girlfriend, Trudy (Flora Montgomery), has left him. Of course, he remains deeply and desperately in love with her, hence the overwrought language and pose. And, to bring you up to speed on the whys and why-nots of their relationship, as well as his own me-me-me concerns, Brendan launches into an extended flashback, old-movie-style.


Directed by Kieron Walsh and written by Roddy Doyle (The Commitments, The Snapper, The Van), When Brendan Met Trudy aspires to be something of a po-mo screwball comedy, in which the young man learns to let loose and the young woman learns to, well, appreciate the few things the young man can do for her, a la Bringing Up Baby or Something Wild. Before he meets Trudy, Brendan is a bland schoolteacher, never able to remember his students’ names, frankly bored by his own lectures, and repulsed by the non-activities in the teachers lounge (playing board games, chowing down on soggy sandwiches, grimacing through long awkward pauses). To keep himself afloat, at least spiritually if not emotionally, Brendan spends his evenings singing in a church choir, most pleasurably losing himself in the florid chords of his favorite hymn, “Panis Angelicus.”


It’s plain enough that Brendan is in need of some sensory input, quickly. And, in his narrative of himself, it’s not long until Trudy provides just that and then some. Blond and bright and bold, she approaches him at a pub one night after choir rehearsal, introducing herself as a Montessori nursery school teacher, which she most definitely is not. But that little lie is okay with Brendan—and you, because she’s instantly livelier than he has been so far, in and out of the gutter. He offends her, she walks off, he follows her like a puppy and delivers a rousing verse from “Panis Angelicus,” right there in a booth in the pub. Other drinkers look a bit distraught by te out-of-place-ness of the performance, but Trudy is smitten, at least in Brendan’s recollection of the event. Soon enough, they’re locked in an opposites-attract sort of love affair, translated to a few scenes in which she behaves wildly in public and he discovers wild sex. Who knew this wussy guy was such a tiger in the sack? Though they’re meant to be together, the couple must endure some obstacles, least convincingly in the form of Brendan’s stuffy family (why he cares about them is never explained) and Trudy’s livelihood. With these obstacles, the film’s contrivances begin to weigh a bit heavily. Trudy has a habit of sneaking out late at night, wearing black clothes and a mask; when he learns from a television report that a band of black-clothed women are going round at night and castrating men, Brendan begins to fret. When he finds a kitchen drawer full of tools, like crowbars and hammers, he’s afraid to confront her. Finally she admits that she’s a burglar, and he realizes how silly he’s been.


Brendan is so giddy with relief that he takes Trudy home to meet his terminally disapproving mum (Marie Mullen) and married sister (Pauline McLynn). No surprise, the visit is a disaster, and Trudy leaves him almost as soon as they get out the door, vowing she’s only go back with him if he accompanies her on a robbery of the sister’s house and poops on the carpet. This too-muchness is apparently enough to make Brendan snap—hence his throwing himself into the gutter you saw in the beginning of the film and other vaguely hysterical behavior, most of which he imagines through movie scenes, for instance, The Hunchback of Notre Dame or Once Upon a Time in the West, where the heroes feel betrayed and lost.


Unfortunately, when he finds himself, apparently by convincing Trudy to come back to him, the film slides into sharp decline. In a screwball comedy, the man’s turn—to embrace girlish shenanigans and such—is the end. Here, there’s more, evidence, I suppose, that Brendan is completely evolved, eager to go on jobs with her, even suggesting one himself. (He wants to break into his school and steal the new computers which, he thinks, impair the intellectual development of young minds—in this and other ways, Brendan never seems quite swift enough to warrant electric Trudy’s interest in him.) Their happy coupledom is visualized in a series of recreated movie-magic-moments, most conspicuously when they pose as Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless, and the movie has effectively run itself into a narrative corner, with no way to close as cleverly as the movies it’s quoting.


 


 


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Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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