Much in the way that Medea movies are widely ignored internationally, the huge success of Mrs Brown’s Boy D’Movie may be uncharted territory for American readers. To be honest, I expected to give this an un-coveted ‘no award’ rating. Yet this was a number one movie in the UK WOR (week of release) and while critics were not invited to peruse the contents, an airing on Amazon Prime offers an opportunity to examine the Mrs Brown phenomenon on the big-screen.
I’ve never seen the popular sitcom on which Ben Kellett’s film is based; perhaps a blank sheet is the best way to approach. Mrs Brown, the creation of Irish comic Brendan O’Carroll, runs a Dublin market stall, and has a Mrs Doubtfire thing going on; at one point, O’Carroll winks to the audience when it’s suggested that Mrs Brown might dress up as a man. Agnes Brown is in a tizz because she’s got an unpaid tax-bill which makes her vulnerable to a hostile take-over from a conglomerate; the details are somewhat sketchy. Various shenanigans ensue, mainly a Mission Impossible-parody involving breaking into Dublin’s main tax office, and then there’s a big courtroom finale with an on-message monologue about how we’re all in in together.
This is a hit and miss film, and there are misses; a running joke about ‘blind ninjas’ is regrettable, and some of the stereotyping begs the question of whether the film deals with or embodies racial prejudices. Robert Bathhurst also has a difficult time playing a QC with Tourettes; the use of a condition for easy laughs seems dated in a film so recent. And yet O’Carroll’s comic character is tried and tested, and the constant fourth-wall breaks are sometimes charming, as is the energetic musical sequence that opens the film.
This is a rare film that includes out-takes during the main body of the film; a Godardian tactic used for a scene in which Mrs Brown invades the tax office lobby is repeated after the cast and crew are seen breaking-up with laughter. It looks like everyone had fun making Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie, and some of that enjoyment translates. The few critics who saw the film despised the result, and yet it’s hard to knock the populist appeal. Mrs Brown might be a figure of the past, but deserves a little slack here; this is a crude but amiable, film that just about sticks the landing.