A film of both nostalgia and emotional volatility, White Irish Drinkers also has a title that probably works against drawing in the audience that would be most compelled by it.
Written and directed by John Gray, the film is a semi-authobiographical coming-of-age tale of Brooklyn in 1975. The film revolves around Brian Leary (Nick Thurston), first seen helping his older brother Danny (Geoffrey Wigdor) rob a jewelry store. But Brian doesn't have the stomach for being a thief or getting involved in his brother's increasingly brash heist schemes.
Instead, Brian spends his spare time in the basement storage room of his family's apartment building, drawing and sketching. He's obviously got talent, but he has no particular outlet for his work - and no dream of a future as an artist, because Irish working-class guys in 1970s Brooklyn don't think of those things.
But a friend, who is back from college, recognizes a kindred spirit in Brian and begins telling him about Carnegie-Mellon, the college he attends in Pittsburgh. They offer scholarships to those in need, he says, a designation that Brian angrily disdains.
On the other hand, Brian doesn't really belong where he is. His friends' dreams are limited to landing a civil-service job with benefits and a pension. His brother can't see much beyond his next robbery. And his father (Stephen Lang) is a longshoreman who drinks up his earnings and then takes it out on his wife (Karen Allen) and older son with beatings.
Brian works - for measly earnings - at the fading local movie theater, which is run by a dreamer named Whitey (Peter Riegert). The movies aren't drawing audiences - but when Brian suggests putting on rock'n'roll shows there, Whitey gets an idea. He gets in touch with an old pal, who happens to be the Rolling Stones road manager, and snags a deal whereby the Stones will play an unannounced show at the movie theater the night before their historic 1975 stand at Madison Square Garden.
In some ways, White Irish Drinkers then turns into a math equation. If Brian has this dream and Danny has that weakness, which will rise up and smack Brian in the face at the crucial moment at film's end? His future hangs in the balance and it's just a question of which of the potentially fatal influences in his life - his brother, his friends, his father - will trip him up as he finally decides that being an artist is the way to go.
There's no repressed emotion in Gray's heart-on-the-sleeve drama. Everything is played for maximum feeling, with the occasionally quiet or personal moment to contrast with the regular outbursts, whether of anger, violence or ribaldry.
Yet he's got a strong young cast of mostly unknowns, supported by such canny veterans as Allen, Lang and the always intriguing Riegert. It's a nice, full-blooded contrast to the usual independent film, which tends to be both bloodless and overly controlled.
In that sense, White Irish Drinkers is a full meal, an old-fashioned kitchen sink drama that feels like something from the 1970s, while using that era as its setting.
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