'Poison Pen': Virginia Film Festival Review

Frothy screwball romantic comedy satirizes celebrity journalism 

Filmmakers Steven Benedict, Lorna Fitzsimons and Jennifer Shortall send up today’s celebrity-driven journalism

Literary lion Evelyn Waugh satirized journalism in his novel Scoop and filmmakers Steven Benedict, Lorna Fitzsimons and Jennifer Shortall parody today’s celebrity-driven drivel in the same vein. In the ’90s, a studio would have remade this Irish film with stars Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts instead of its talented leads, Lochlainn O’Mearain and Aoibhinn McGinnity. Both brainy and balmy, Poison Pen is the kind of bright amusement that Sony Classics might release on the select-site circuit.

In this crafty entertainment, tweedy-writer PC Molloy (O’Mearain) grinds away at life, teaching indifferent college students, spouting Yeats and procrastinating on his second novel. A one-time boy wonder, PC is blocked creatively and financially; he had accepted a large advance on his novel, but is 13 years past his deadline. A damsel in trendy armor (McGinnity), the editor of a London tabloid, makes him an offer he can’t refuse: Come to work at her popular paper, Poison Pen, or turn in his completed novel immediately to its Murdoch-ish parent company. She calculates that his tony prose will give the rag-mag some erudite sheen, much in the same way Playboy ups its prestige with ditties from the literati.

Long out of the loop, PC is an ink-stained wretch by disposition and contemptuous of the lowbrow swill of celebrity coverage. In short, he’s tossed into his version of literary hell, interviewing the dimwits, egoists and poseurs who currently grab worldwide attention. His awkward, edgy interviews with the “15 minutes of fame” crowd are Spinal Tap-ish funny.

Skewering celebrity culture, as superstar morons inveigle ways to keep their names in the “news,” screenwriters Eoin Colfer and Graham Cantwell have penned an edgy but warm story. They’ve created an engaging screwball romantic comedy, as the starchy writer and his trendy editor fall for each other, and, to boot, have pierced today’s media with some lethal Brit-wit. Energizing the story with slapstick and clever visuals, directors Benedict, Lorna and Jennifer maintain a breezy tone and an aptly fast pace.

The production credits are keen and comedic, especially cinematographer Penny Merelle Gray’s ironic compositions and production designer Emma Ryan’s daft-and-proper furnishings. Both contributions illuminate the characters as well as visualize the craziness of media culture.

Production: Filmbase

Cast: Lochlainn O’Mearain, Aoibhinn McGinnity, Paul Ronan, Susan Loughnane, Aaron Heffernan

Directors: Steven Benedict, Lorna Fitzsimons, Jennifer Shortall

Screenwriters: Eoin Colfer, Graham Cantwell

Producers: Aine Coady, Sharon Cronin

Director of photography: Penny Merelle Gray

Production designer: Emma Ryan 

Editor: Richy O’Connell


No rating, 95 minutes