The Bright Side

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Bright Side
"While we all know there will be, as per the title, a bright side to all this, Kate is satisfyingly complex and Meehan is always looking for ways to take us further in to her headspace."

Ruth Meehan's debut film is a feisty descendant of the likes of Calendar Girls, with its female strength-in-the-face-of-illness narrative that presents its similar themes of dealing with cancer while navigating friendship and loss, with a younger audience demographic in mind.

Gemma-Leah Devereux - who put in a small but notable performance as Liza Minelli in biopic Judy - brings complexity to the central character of Kate, a stand-up comedian who uses her life as a punchline for her gigs, gambles her depression medication with pals and has quite a lot of dark thoughts about death.

But Kate discovers wanting to die and suddenly being faced with the prospect are two very different things when an accident leads to a diagnosis of breast cancer and the looming challenge of a round of chemotherapy and surgery. With a wit so sharp she's in danger of cutting herself, Kate proves initially abrasive to the group of women she shares her chemo sessions with - the elderly but twinkly Róisín (Barbara Brennan), constantly coiffed New Age adherent Fiona (Karen Egan), Tracy (Siobhán Cullen) who is as full of fight as Kate is acquiescent in the face of the disease and fiftysomething Helen (Derbhle Crotty), the weakest drawn of the characters who is almost purely defined by having come out as a lesbian late in life. Helen would be better left to just "be" rather than being given a single characteristic to hinge on like this and it's a mark of the first-time nature of the feature that there's quite a bit of mistaking character 'incident' for character development, as a rocky marriage - mentioned once, then never spoken of again - is also thrown into the mix so that one character can have an emotional twirl in the spotlight.

It is also hardly a surprise that bonding is about to ensue, although the decision of Meehan and co-writer Jean Pasley to have this happen on a fly-fishing weekend run by the local widowed pharmacist (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) is a mark of the quirkiness of their comedy drama. The trajectory may be predictable but there's plenty of raw sentiment on display, often in unexpected moments, such as when Kate's niece asks her: "If you have no boobies and no hair, will you still be a girl".

While we all know there will be, as per the title, a bright side to all this, Kate is satisfyingly complex and Meehan is always looking for ways to take us further in to her headspace, such as when cinematographer JJ Rolfe's camerawork becomes woozy with her at a key emotional moment. There's poetry, too, in some of the shot choices - so that curtains fluttering in the breeze or a feather earring take on additional significance. There's a satisfying fighting spirit to this whole enterprise that helps it to emotionally punch above its apparent weight.

Reviewed on: 17 Aug 2021
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The Bright Side packshot
Cynical stand-up, Kate, has lost her way, but she gains friends and a new perspective on life when she goes through cancer treatment with an unlikely band of companions.

Festivals:

EIFF 2021

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