Patrick's Day: SXSW Review

Courtesy of Ignition Film Productions
Intimate drama juggles conflicting emotional impulses.

Moe Dunford plays a schizophrenic man struggling after his first sexual experience.

AUSTIN — Birthday treats don't get much more cruel than Patrick's Day, in which a man suffering from schizophrenia falls in love only to see the experience torn away from him. Terry McMahon's drama has a hard time deciding whose side it's on, which may be appropriate to the messy realities its protagonists face; though sometimes sentimental, the well acted film will find some admirers on the fest circuit and could be viable in an arthouse run.

Moe Dunford is strong as the title character, avoiding the mannerisms and dramatic volatility usually employed to signify mental illness onscreen. His Patrick, who lives in a hospital but takes his meds and maintains a menial job in a grocery, is a gentle, not very worldly man but no beatific stereotype. On his annual birthday outing with his mother Maura (Kerry Fox), Patrick loses track of her in the thick of a carnival crowd and winds up back near their Dublin hotel on his own.

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There he meets Karen (Catherine Walker), a flight attendant who for reasons we never learn is planning to kill herself. Intending to enjoy one last bit of pleasure, she drunkenly throws herself at Patrick, taking his virginity before their encounter is angrily interrupted (and Karen's suicide plan derailed) by Maura.

As Patrick establishes his romantic fixation on Karen in the coming days, his mother is sure she knows what's best for him and has no qualms about how she achieves it. Fox is not afraid to appear unsympathetic in scenes where Maura insults Karen, enlists a cop (Philip Jackson) to throw Patrick off her trail, and baldly manipulates her son. She goes to upsetting lengths, and McMahon's script and direction are bracing in their refusal to frame her as a villain. The actress herself remains difficult to read, so in the thrall of her character's self-justifications that we're not sure which of her lies she might actually believe.

McMahon, a filmmaker and actor whose slim acting resume includes Paul Fraser's enjoyable 2010 My Brothers, has the occasional lapse in taste (for example, the music- and sun-drenched interlude in which Patrick, Karen, and an orphaned collie share a moment in Eden), but his frequent use of POV meshes well with the film's intimate portrayal of this critical moment in Patrick's life. If he musters more optimism for Patrick than is justified in the story's closing scenes, most viewers won't hold it against him.

Production Companies: Ignition Film Productions, Underground Films

Cast: Moe Dunford, Kerry Fox, Catherine Walker, Philip Jackson, Aaron Monaghan

Director-Screenwriter: Terry McMahon

Producer: Tim Palmer

Executive producers: Doug Abbott, Rory Gilmartin, John Wolstenholme

Director of photography: Michael Lavelle

Production designer: Emma Lowney

Music: Ray Harman

Costume designer: Gaby Rooney

Editor: Emer Reynolds

No rating, 97 minutes