Metal Heart

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Metal Heart
"With a good measure of comedy to balance out the drama, Metal Heart is a sweet film that might perhaps be a little too forgiving at the end but is true to its characters throughout."

Emma (Jordanne Jones) and Chantal (Leah McNamara) are sisters - not that you'd know it. Chantal has invested a great deal in playing by the rules, from the trivial - bleaching her hair to this year's shade of anonymous blond and learning exactly when to giggle to best effect - to the serious - working hard all summer to save up money so she can start her own business. Emma, by contrast, has ditched the idea of working to focus on starting a band (though they've never actually played anywhere), expects (with some justification) an easy ride into academia and, being a goth, is toxic to Chantal's carefully cultivated image. When their parents leave them alone for a few weeks they hope that this will encourage them to bond. Before long, however, Emma has grown sick of Chantal loudly banging her airhead boyfriend in the next room and has drifted into the orbit of thirtysomething neighbour Dan - a man whom any adult watching will quickly sense is up to no good.

Emma's vulnerability to anybody seeking to be friendly is understandable. She spends almost all her spare time hanging out with Gary (Seán Doyle), the only goth boy in the village, who is clearly in love with her, unwilling to say so, and yet deeply offended by the idea of her showing an interest in anyone else. They seem to have learned everything they know about music from the internet and from a cultural perspective, that's not very much. Give them another year and they'd probably have been adopted by older goths at college, but as things stand the fact that Dan has actually been in a band (or so he says) instantly marks him out to Emma as a better option. The musical references he drops in an attempt to impress are curiously out of place for his generation and one wonders if they represent the writer's taste or signal the fact that he, too, has little direction of his own and is using what he's borrowed from a now-absent mentor of his own.

There's a stage in life when many teenage girls think well, if I want sex and he wants sex, how can I be exploited? having no idea how irrational men can be, nor thought for all the other things they have to lose. Before long, Dan is also flirting with Chantal and has persuaded her to provide free care for his ailing mother. He's talking wistfully of returning to his own days as a musician and hinting that he wants Emma to help him. The air is full of red flags that she's too besotted to see.

Though much of this may seem crude to older viewers, it's very well pitched for a teenage audience and covers important lessons of the sort that rarely come up in the classroom. Emma is a likeable heroine, easy to relate to despite her naivety, and importantly, we get to see her learn things for herself without any pressure from well-intentioned adults. What warnings there are come from Chantal, but she has her own problems after an incident that forces her to re-evaluate her social life. In order to set things right, the sisters will, of course, have to remember how much they care for each other, discovering the power that they have when they work as a team.

With a good measure of comedy to balance out the drama, Metal Heart is a sweet film that might perhaps be a little too forgiving at the end but is true to its characters throughout. Importantly, it's respectful of all their different identities, with no insulting last-minute makeovers and no suggestion that friendship has to depend on homogeneity. The souring of Emma's relationship with Dan is balanced out by warm-heartedness elsewhere. All the characters are flawed and unreasonable to some degree, but there's a sense that the younger ones have room to improve, and that accepting each other is a good way to begin that. It also gives them room to be human, even in the closest thing Ireland has to Hollywood ending mode.

Reviewed on: 03 Mar 2019
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Metal Heart packshot
Dublin goth Emma is the guiding spirit of the band Yeast Infections. Chantal is bubbly and always blogging. When their parents head off on holiday, a summer of bitter rivalry, chasing dreams and facing reality sets the siblings on a collision course.

Director: Hugh O’Conor

Writer: Paul Murray

Starring: Jordanne Jones, Leah McNamara, Moe Dunford

Year: 2018

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: Ireland

Festivals:

Glasgow 2019

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