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'Brendan Met Trudy': A Delicious Chestnut

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 9, 2001


    'When Brendan Met Trudy' Peter McDonald and Flora Montgomery are Irish opposites in "When Brendan Met Trudy."
(Franchise Pictures-Universal Focus)
"When Brendan Met Trudy" has been made about 50 times before, even as recently as last month, when it appeared under the name "Sweet November." You know it well: The uptight I-have-no-life young male geek meets a zany gal who liberates him to be his true self. The last acts vary – sometimes she dies, sometimes they live happily ever after, sometimes they part, sadder but wiser – but the mechanism is consistent: Her life force melts his repression. Put another way: He gives her class, she gives him sex.

Other variants have included "Harold and Maude" (where the "girl" was 79) and at least three Streisand twists: "The Owl and the Pussycat," "What's Up, Doc?" and, in a more somber tone, "The Way We Were."

But "When Brendan Met Trudy" is the best of them all, an Irish lark that blows in, trailing daffodils and the sniff of spring, from that adventurous releasing company Shooting Gallery Films.

Why is it so good? Well, mainly it's Brendan and Trudy. It's also a script by the great Irish storyteller Roddy Doyle and a clever young director, Kieron J. Walsh, neither of whom appears to have seen any of the films I have mentioned, but who do appear to have seen every other movie ever made.

The subtext to this variation, uniquely, is movie love. Brendan, played by a wonderful actor named Peter McDonald, is the overcontrolled pawn-child of a rigid middle-class suburban family. A virgin at 28, he teaches in Dublin in a private school whose students openly mock his (very funny) ineffectuality, and he lives only through the movies. In fact, he knows everything about movies except how to enjoy them. Inside he may be John Wayne but to all the world he looks like a combination of Keir Dullea and Campbell Scott: that mild, unprepossessing young man in coat and tie whose idea of fun might be looking up new words in the dictionary. When he tries to start a conversation with a young woman in a bookstore, the results are predictably disastrous.

In a bar after a sweaty night of choir practice (yes, he's an actual choirboy, with a sweet baritone voice and zero confidence in it), he meets Trudy, played by another wonderful performer named Flora Montgomery. Trudy, who looks like Princess Di crossed with Ellen DeGeneres, takes a shine to him and it's sex at first sight. Well, almost. First he has to put her off by explaining too much about everything. He's a chronic explainer, which is not as bad as a chronic whiner but worse than a chronic complainer. Before he can become human, she has to de-chronic him.

Then she has to stand him up and he has to track her down and bore her with more movie explanations. Take it from me, son, telling women about movie symbols is no way to impress them! Anyhow, he's so desperate and puppylike, and she's so, well, human, it only takes a few more minutes before he and she have become a they.

Her lifestyle is a little strange too, it seems. She's into, you know, stealing things. She's a, oh, what's the word? Oh, yes, "burglar." Why? Well, as she explains, it beats working.

The movie zips along, with a kind of long-lost Carnaby Street zest. It seems to have that mid-'60s spirit of gentle anarchism, as well as a smart sense of humor all the way through, while at the same time genially toying with the great images of the Western world's movie canon. It may help that Walsh's evocation of the canon coincides with my own, as he cops images from such favorites as "Once Upon a Time in the West," "Sunset Boulevard," "The Quiet Man" and "The Searchers."

And off they go, she pulling him into a strange new world where people don't spend their time deciphering cinema semiotics or quarreling over the name of the seventh gunman in "The Magnificent Seven" (no one ever remembers Brad Dexter) but actually, you know, living a life.

Of course a certain family of tyrants must be set straight, and certain issues of loyalty and crime (which cannot pay) must be worked out, and, most obviously, the oldest ritual of them all – boy gets, boy loses, you know the rest – must be obeyed. But for its 94 minutes, "When Brendan Met Trudy" is super. Its fragility, which could so easily crack into preciousness, is held taut and wisely. Also, stay tuned at the end for the game it plays with that ancient movie trope in which each character's destiny is laid out on a title card. You know, "Brendan and Trudy got married and etc. etc." They send it up so well, nobody with any sense can ever use it again.

"When Brendan Met Trudy" (94 minutes) is not rated but contains profanity, nudity and sexual situations.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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