Title: Run & Jump
Director: Steph Green
Starring: Maxine Peake, Edward MacLiam, Will Forte, Brendan Morris, Ruth McCabe, Sharon Horgan, Michael Harding
A compassionate drama that wants to sift through and examine notions of expanded family, “Run & Jump” flirts with being a lot of different things, but succeeds in being none of them. The debut feature film of co-writer and director Steph Green, this Irish import — featuring one of two dramatic turns by ex-“Saturday Night Live” star Will Forte this season — has a rooted sense of place, but lacks the resolution and fortitude to push past pretty, dressed-up surface conflict and into areas that might leave a lasting mark with viewers.
The story follows Vanetia Casey (Maxine Peake), an optimistic wife and mother who returns home from the hospital with her husband Conor (Edward MacLiam) after he’s suffered a stroke that left him in a coma for one month, and put him in intensive rehabilitation for four more. With them is a buttoned-up American doctor, Ted Fielding (Forte, sporting a stately, well-groomed beard), who for two months is supposed to keep an eye on Conor, whose stroke has left him with rare brain lesions and impacted his personality in a big way, making him aloof and frequently standoffish.
Ted’s research grant provides the Casey family with much-needed financial assistance, but his presence initially unsettles Vanetia. Conor, meanwhile, is nothing like the man Vanetia married; he verbally abuses their teenage son Lenny (Brendan Morris), deriding him as gay in graphic language, and when another family member passes away he attends the funeral in a football jersey. Slowly, though, Ted begins to have a palliative effect on everyone in the family. As his prescribed time with the Caseys approaches its conclusion, however, it stirs up some emotional issues.
Green, Academy Award-nominated for her short film work, commands an impressive grasp of “Run & Jump”‘s technical elements. The film has an easygoing, unhurried confidence, evident in every frame. Cinematographer Kevin Richey turns in evocative work that makes nice use of the movie’s rural Irish setting, though the inclusion, especially early on, of forced-perspective footage from the point-of-view of Ted’s handheld camera feels jarring and ill-advised. Music also plays a big part in the film — Sebastian Pille contributes some nice orchestral offerings, which are interspersed with airy songs in a variety of montage sequences, as when the family visits a local zoo in order to indulge Conor’s new fascination with animals.
But the script, penned by Green and Ailbhe Keogan (who receives a larger credit), is too dainty and coy by more than half. “Run & Jump” isn’t calibrated for much in the way of traditional drama (even its few outbursts are muted), but it takes an awfully long time to flesh out its characters. And when it then pivots to prescription drug overdoses and other heavy-handed narrative insertions after a hour-plus of meandering, it feels phony and like a cheap play for emotional relevance that the filmmakers soon abandon anyway.
This isn’t to say that “Run & Jump” feels false in sum. Peake has an unadulterated watchability, and Forte, for all his comedic gifts, is an actor with a surprisingly subtle touch. The material doesn’t fully trust them, however. “Run & Jump” unfolds with much warmth and consideration, but it seems skittish of pushing its characters into deeper conflict or friction. Content to play around the edges, Green’s film fritters away viewers’ attention.
Written by: Brent Simon