A romantic comedy, particularly a romantic comedy set in Ireland, can run the gamut from silly to tragic in just a few scenes. The Yank, a new film by Sean Lackey, does that -- and much more. The idea of an American, particularly a Guinness-drinking green-tie-wearing shamrock-loving Irish-American, looking for love in Ireland is, particularly in the 21st century, the stuff jokes are made of. But The Yank manages to rise above the inherent joke by confronting a century’s worth of prejudice and romanticism head-on.
Tom Murphy (played by Sean Lackey) is the titular “Yank” of the title. The irony of course is that Tom, a Cleveland born-and-bred, self-described 100% Irish-American blue-collar working guy, probably never sees himself as a “Yank” until the wedding of a friend brings Tom “home” to the country his great-great-grandparents left.
Brought up in a family that celebrates everything Irish --Maryann Nagel, Fred Willard, Anne McEvoy and Gene Foster are perfectly cast as Tom’s insular, bigoted, charming, well-meaning and always “100% Irish” American family -- Tom is half-ordinary guy, half self-aware straight-man to the near farce that is his family’s celebration of Irishness. The Murphy family's continual celebration of Ireland is like a St. Patrick's Day party gone mad. The family home looks like a Celtic nick-nack shop. Mrs. Murphy's signature dish consists of sodabread and meatballs. The men of the family --particularly Uncle Timberleg who communicates mainly by quoting John Wayne movies-- are like a distillation of everything it means to be a green-shirt-wearing hard-drinking hard-working blue-collar Irish-American guy of a certain generation. The Murphy men love Guinness and God, are proud that Ireland is the traditional home of poets and writers --although they seem a bit confused by who exactly Joyce, Shaw, Wilde and the rest of the pantheon of great Irish writers were-- and rarely let reality invade their insular family-centered world. (The walking, talking, arguing cliche of the Murphy family get-togethers is enough to make any Irish-American wince and smile with recognition. We may not want to admit it, but we all have an Uncle Timberleg somewhere in the family tree. Personal confession time: My American-born "Irish-American" grandfather really did have a shillelagh collection.)
With parents that see it as part of their cultural duty to double-down on everything Irish --from Leprechaun dolls to corned-beef-- and an uncle who has memorized every single John Wayne line from The Quiet Man, Tom is predisposed to obey when his parents tell him that the only girl for him is an Irish girl. The unlucky-in-love, slightly overweight middle-aged bachelor flies off to Ireland during the 2013 Year of the Gathering with his mother’s exhortations to find his own Irish girl ringing in his ears.
Part comedy, part buddy movie, The Yank both meets and exceeds expectations. While Tom Murphy may have had trouble meeting (or keeping) the girl of his dreams, like any good Irish guy he has a group of buddies closer than brothers. Cody Dove, Spencer Jay Kim and Kevin Farley are hilarious as Tom's always loyal equal-parts nerdy and jerky American buddies eager to hit Ireland and party. Predictably enough Tom will have to learn how to escape his mother's smothering rules and his buddies' bad advice before finding the girl of his dreams.
But The Yank, while definitely a movie about Ireland and what it means to be Irish or Irish-American in the 21st century, is also a movie about love. Tom’s love for his parents -- and their wacky traditions. His parents’ passionate love for what Ireland means to them. His buddies’ near holy love of Guinness. The smothering love of Irish mothers for their sons. And, eventually, the love that seems so obvious to Tom once he stops worrying about what is expected of him and stops looking for the Ireland of The Quiet Man.
Overall, whether you are Irish or Irish-American or simply love a well-crafted story about both embracing and overcoming expectations, this is well-worth seeing. And, if you can see it on the big screen, it will be even better. (The scenery, both in Cleveland and Ireland, is stunning.)