Irish director Lance Daly’s Life’s a Breeze faces a curious dilemma. How to depict the degrading effects of poverty when your central character, 79-year-old grandmother Nan (Fionnula Flanagan), lives in squalor by choice, having saved up close to a million euros?
Her problems begin when her extended family, realizing that she’s a virtual contender for Hoarding: Buried Alive, throws out most of her possessions, including the mattress where she’s stashed the money. Led by her dim son Colm (Pat Shortt), they then go on a wild chase in search of it. Along the way, Nan and Colm’s teenage niece Emma (Kelly Thornton) share many pleasant moments of conversation.
Ken Loach’s recent comedies of working-class life seem to be Daly’s main inspiration here. Life’s a Breeze keeps itself from sailing all the way into Full Monty-style uplift by its bittersweet tone. In fact, it often descends into a sheer pissiness — as in a cruel prank played on Colm — closer to Mike Leigh or even Todd Solondz than Loach.
But a bigger problem is that Daly’s a more talented director than screenwriter. He often fills the entire widescreen frame with people and objects, taking full advantage of the space offered by Cinemascope, but as a writer, he pushes Life’s a Breeze along from one contrivance to the next in order to hit feature length.
The film’s surface naturalism and visual grit simply cover up a screenplay that’s as full of crap as the average recent Hollywood comedy. All the same, Flanagan’s quietly dignified performance deserves a better film to be built around it.