End Of Sentence

****

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

John Hawkes and Sarah Bolger as Frank and Jewel. John Hawkes: 'Frank is not a showy kind of role but I just really related to his underdog sense, his kind of covering so much of what the truth was about him'
"All praise to the acting here, as each star deliver characters with depth and meaning, without the encumbrance of lengthy self-exposition." | Photo: Courtesy of EIFF

Bittersweet is one of those awkward adjectives. Overused. Misunderstood. A lot like “tragic”, which too often is generic term for “something bad happened to the hero”. Bittersweet is a useful descriptor of chocolate and cranberries and Campari but less useful when it comes to film, where works described as such all too often turn out to be mawkish, sentimental and barely watchable.

Except occasionally. As here, in End Of Sentence, an awkward, touching, sometimes funny, sometimes thought-provoking story of a man attempting to respect the last wish of his recently deceased wife by travelling to Ireland from the US to scatter her ashes on an out of the way lake - and taking his estranged son with him.

Copy picture

An interesting if far from unique, premise. Urns containing ashes have long been stock-in-trade of comedy, representing, as they do, the ever-present risk of an accident that may prove fatal(!) to the occupant. From The Big Lebowski to Only Fools and Horses, there is constant tension between the seriousness of the circumstance and audience awareness that at any moment, the seriousness may turn to high comedy.

No spoilers. Given the premise, how could the director shy away from a certain amount of cinerary business? But despite being central to the plot, the ashes carry, for the most part, no more than walk-on significance.

And that, given the film’s wider focus, is about right. As tales go, this is a story of reconciliation. The film begins with a sombre last visit by mum, Anna Fogle (Andrea Irvine), to son Sean (Logan Lerman) in a prison, where he is serving a sentence for car theft. She is in the last stages of terminal cancer and is there to say goodbye.

Ouch! As the opening credits roll, she is gone and the film proper can begin. For her last wish, communicated to doting husband Frank (John Hawkes) is that he and Sean together take her ashes to Ireland. The only problem is that Sean cannot stand Frank; and despite doing his best to keep the peace, Frank clearly finds Sean “difficult”.

Frank is an old school salesman with a perpetual underdog approach to life. Sean, who takes a more assertive view of everything, from relationships to physical confrontation, is exasperated by his father’s take on things and traumatised, by events in their shared past. Early on, they fall to arguing as to whether respect is “owed” or “earned”, and this seems pretty foundational. But of course, as both reveal more of their shared history, it becomes increasingly obvious that this argument is proxy for something else.

Left to their own devices, it is likely that the two would have done little more than bicker their way around Ireland, parting at the end of the trip with no gain and a renewed commitment never to see the other again. But here is the cleverness of the tale, as early on, an all too randy Sean turns their less than dynamic duo into a more interesting threesome with the addition of Jewel (Sarah Bolger) - a young woman with a tragic tale of her own and a need to travel across Ireland in a hurry.

Yes, she joins them and, yes, she is cause for one of the more classic urn jokes to grace the action. More important, she acts as a bridge between father and son. Nothing so crass as the sit-down heart to heart. Rather, it is in her interactions with each that new truths begin to make themselves known. Such as – we knew this all along – that despite the outward difference in temper and habits, Sean and Frank have far more in common than they realise. That Frank’s “weakness” is pragmatism and Sean’s bluff misogyny is, for the most part “bluff”.

All praise to the acting here, as each star deliver characters with depth and meaning, without the encumbrance of lengthy self-exposition. Especial praise to Hawkes, whose skill here lies in his masterly under-statement. More is very definitely less.

Praise too to Elfar Adalsteins, whose directorial debut this is, because on the evidence here, he has much more to give us. And a thumbs up for the music, a mix of trad folk and more contemporary work, which alternates between providing a misty, wistful Irishness and narrative comment in what can only be described as bittersweet fashion.

Reviewed on: 29 May 2020
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End Of Sentence packshot
A widower embarks on a journey to fulfil his wife's wish to have her ashes scattered in Ireland, taking his estranged son along for the trip.

Director: Elfar Adalsteins

Writer: Michael Armbruster

Starring: John Hawkes, Logan Lerman, Sarah Bolger, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Andrea Irvine, Christopher Allen, Sean Mahon, David Grant Wright, Shaw Jones, Zylan Brooks, Claire Mullan, Robert Kiernan, Kevin Tribble, Kyle Hancock, Aoibhin Murphy

Year: 2019

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: Iceland, Ireland, United States


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