Mrs Brown’s Boys: D’Movie: The film is out and it's dreadful
But who cares what one snobby critic thinks when box office takings are going through the roof, asks Archie Bland
Asked to comment on the international success of Mrs Brown’s Boys recently, Brendan O’Carroll explained his view that Irishness can travel well, with reference to his cultural forebears. “We have to have more faith in the audience,” he said. “Look, Sean O’Casey’s plays have toured all over the world. Ulysses is required reading at universities all over the world. Somewhere along the line, that inferiority complex set in.”
That complex, I reflected as I settled in at a Cineworld at 10.40am earlier this week, does not appear to have affected O’Carroll himself. It takes nerve to translate your studio sitcom to the big screen, and if the mastermind of Mrs Brown’s Boys: D’Movie isn’t comparable to James Joyce in every respect, he certainly shares his unflinching self-belief. Indeed, the film’s producers were sufficiently confident in their product that they decided to do without the usual screenings for critics.
Rory Cowan, who plays Mrs Brown’s son, explained the thinking with reference to the show’s former run-ins with the press: “The critics were totally irrelevant, it didn’t matter what they said, so about 10 years ago, we stopped letting them come along,” he said. “I couldn’t care less what some journalists say about us.” Can’t argue with that, really. While this move doesn’t usually portend that the movie in question is a classic, you can’t blame O’Carroll and his cohorts for concluding that the views of the critics are so beside the point. On the opening weekend, Mrs Brown’s army of fans propelled it to a hefty £4.3m across the UK and Ireland. It still stands atop the box office chart today.
When I call Peter Bennett-Jones, the agent and producer who was behind the big-screen transitions of Mr Bean, and Kevin and Perry, to ask for an explanation of this phenomenon, he’s pretty blunt. “No one is going to see these movies on the basis of reviews anyway,” he says. “If you’re a producer you’re more worried about what the paying audience think.”
Shane Allen, the BBC’s Comedy Commissioning Controller, agrees. He points to a snobbery in the comedy world, too. “Some of it goes back to when alternative comedy came along,” he says. “A lot of the tastemakers were forged in the fire of that. They think the only interesting comedy is pioneering. Well, you always have to have those things, but there will always be a residual love of the studio sitcom.”
Anyway, irrelevant though they may be, the few critics who have ventured to the multiplex to see the sitcom’s big-screen incarnation have not been wildly enthusiastic. And while I rather cringed at the prospect of joining their snooty ranks, I’m afraid I can’t say I laughed, or even smiled, once in the whole godforsaken 93 minutes.
Before we get to the main action, in which Mrs Brown does battle with some tiresome Russian villains who have designs on her market stall, we get her voiceover detailing the location of the cinema’s fire exits. “Find a male,” she adds, “in case we have to ejaculate the building.” Ejaculate! Sounds like evacuate, means something rude. Route one stuff, but the other two people in the cinema, 86-year-old Alice Chambers and her daughter Carol, absolutely lose it at this point, and are rarely completely composed for the next hour and a half. “Five out of five,” Alice says afterwards. “A proper comedy with jokes in. Didn’t you like it? Why did you come, then?”
Last laugh: Mrs Brown’s creator Brendan O’Carroll
Because someone made me, Alice, that’s why. I’m afraid her mildly menacing enthusiasm did not win me over. Mrs Brown works, on its own terms, as a wonky but energetic sitcom; on the big screen, it’s a catastrophe. Where the show is fast, prickly and anarchic, the movie is slow, sentimental, and altogether cynical. As far as the jokes go, it turns out they don’t really come off without the raucous laughter of a devoted studio audience to paper over the cracks.
All this will put me in Mr O’Carroll’s bad books as one of those snobby metropolitan sorts. Well, fine. I don’t see why anyone is obliged to like it just because it does well at the box office, though. There’s something weird, and a bit tyrannical, about the idea that critics are somehow doing their job wrong by expressing an opinion that dares diverge from the popular verdict.
In any case, it doesn’t really matter. It is now absolutely clear that Mrs Brown is a slating-proof juggernaut. And the commercial hit that goes down badly with the reviewers provides plenty of compensations, even for the sensitive filmmaker. “You brace yourself for being traduced,” says Peter Bennett-Jones. “And then you take $250m. That puts a pretty big smile on your face.”
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