A genuine connection between the leads is the only thing going for The Drummer and the Keeper, says MacDara Conroy
The Drummer and the Keeper isn’t an enigmatic metaphor for anything, like The Squid and the Whale or some such. It’s literally the story of a drummer in a band who befriends the goalkeeper of a kickabout football team. There’s a bit more to it than that, of course. But only barely, as its central themes of neurodiversity and unconventional friendship are over-encumbered by the weight of barrel-scraping cliché and paint-by-numbers symbolism. In short, it’s not good.
That’s a shame, really, as the core relationship between the titular leads has a lot going for it, even if the characters themselves leave a lot to be desired. The drummer, Gabriel (Dermot Murphy), is a rebel without a cause; we know this because the film opens on him dragging an old couch onto Dollymount Strand and setting it alight. Oh and he’s in the nip apart from his cool leather jacket, because he’s cool. And did I mention he drives a hearse? Because that isn’t at all a metaphor for his morbid obsessions, especially when he crashes it in a drunken stupor.
Both of those set-pieces, by the way, are bogged down by a swelling, overbearing soundtrack to hammer home that what you’re seeing is Important with a capital I. And we’re not even five minutes into the film at this stage.
It turns out Gabriel’s issues stem from the bipolar disorder he’s inherited from his mother, whose suicide he’s never been able to process other than through hallucinations of an erstwhile pop star appearing in the crowd at his gigs. There’s a lot going on with this one. But rather than explore his issues in any detail, his therapist prescribes some exercise in the form of a weekly football session for people with developmental disabilities.
That’s where he meets the goalkeeper, Christopher (Jacob McCarthy), who, and I’m sorry but it has to be said, is an autistic parody. We’ve had so many sensitive and insightful depictions of autism and Asperger’s syndrome over the years, from Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time to Gary in TV’s little-watched Alphas, that this regression to Rain Man stereotypes simply beggars belief.
It doesn’t get any better. The Drummer and the Keeper is put together the way a group of blindfolded people would describe an elephant. There’s little indication from its risible depictions of Dublin’s music scene that its writer and director was once the frontman of early ‘90s rockers The Fat Lady Sings. Nick Kelly also has a son with Asperger’s, according to a recent interview, which by rights should give him more insight than most into that world. Going by how he presents such characters in the film, I don’t even know what to say to that.
Somehow in spite of it all, the connection between Gabriel and Christopher rings true. Setting aside the alienating D4 accents and suffocating middle class malaise, there’s a charming sweetness to their growing fondness for one another as they learn to accept their own and each other’s differences. It’s pretty much the only thing that kept me from balling up my notes and pelting the screen when the credits rolled.
The Drummer and the Keeper opens in selected cinemas on Friday September 8th
Also published on Medium.