Ireland has a rich tradition of finding humour in both Catholicism and death – even better if it’s both. From the great playwrights Beckett, Behan, Synge, Friel and O’Casey, through to novelist/screenwriter Roddy Doyle (best-known for The Commitments) and onto the London-born McDonagh brothers taking on Irish characters and themes in their collaborations with Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges, The Guard and Calvary). This is a tradition that writer-director Aoife Crehan has firmly stepped into with her feature debut The Last Right – which involves a road trip the entire length of the country (and even into Northern Ireland!) with a budgie coffin on the roof. (That’s a coffin with budgies on it, not a coffin for budgies.)
Crehan has assembled quite the cast for this endeavour – starting with the central trio – American Daniel (Michiel Huisman), his Irish brother Louis (played by rising star Samuel Bottomley) and a stranger who blags her way into getting a lift cross country with them – Mary (played by the recently BAFTA-nominated Niamh Algar). Then there’s the supporting cast, which includes legendary Irish character actor Colm Meaney and none other than Logan Roy himself – Brian Cox. The saga begins when Daniel Murphy finds himself sitting next to another Murphy on the plane from New York (on his way to his mother’s funeral). This is Padraig (Jim Norton), a lonely man with no wife or children who is transporting his dead brother (who also had no wife or children) back to Rathlin Island (off the coast of Northern Ireland) to be buried. When Padraig himself proceeds to cark it on the plane, Daniel finds himself named on Padraig’s visa as next of kin, meaning he is now responsible for the body of a stranger.
In Colnakilty, co. Cork Daniel tries to reconnect with his estranged and autistic much younger brother Louis. He needs to persuade the now-orphaned Louis to come back to New York with him (where Daniel works as a high-powered lawyer), something that Louis is very reluctant to do. Louis agrees to at least consider this proposal, if Daniel agrees to take Padraig’s body all the way from Cork to Rathlin Island, to be reunited with his brother’s body, so they can have a double funeral and be buried together. Did someone say road trip?!
Dutch actor Michiel Huisman is probably best known for Game of Thrones and the recent hit TV shows The Haunting of Hill House and The Flight Attendant. Those of us who are fans of historical romances also know him from films The Age of Adaline (2015), The Ottoman Lieutenant (2017) and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018). He has also starred in two exceptional women-directed horror films – The Invitation (2015) and The Other Lamb (2019). The romantic roles are probably where he excels, always having convincing chemistry with his screen partners (including Kaley Cuoco, Blake Lively and Lily James) and being – well – a very good onscreen kisser (which is a rarer skill than you might think!). The romance is one of the strongest elements of The Last Right, with Niamh Algar shining in her role as Mary, as she has done in recent roles in The Virtues and Calm with Horses (this being the one she is BAFTA-nominated for). Despite his age, Samuel Bottomley already has an impressive CV – including last year’s fun comedy-horror Get Duked! and the upcoming Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. He has to walk the difficult tightrope here of playing an autistic teenager and he does this very well, avoiding the stereotypical tics that we have seen in some less subtle depictions (here’s looking at you Rain Man, a film that gets a deserved dressing down in The Last Right). One of the best aspects of the writing is that Louis has a girlfriend – a realistic touch that more simplistic films would not bother with.
The dark Irish comedy is used to full effect by Crehan here (who probably stands out more as a writer than a director), with an exploding food mixer, exploding tomato soup in a chippy microwave, an explosive baby, plenty of profanity and a glove box that is inexplicably full of lube. Louis likes to express his feelings via a song of the day, whether it’s ‘Fantastic Day’ by Haircut 100 or ‘Asshole’ by Denis Leary (something that Daniel frequently lives up to). Colm Meaney and Eleanor O’Brien make a great mismatched bumbling Gardaí duo – her being the wide-eyed innocent on the first week of the job and him being the grizzled and cynical one who is trying to avoid an ‘international incident.’ It’s funny without straining too far into whimsical – a line which John Patrick Shanley’s Wild Mountain Thyme managed to pole vault over last year. Any sentimentality is frequently cut through by Daniel’s constant stream of f-bombs, Mary awkwardly putting her foot in it and Louis taking everything literally.
The Last Right is a great feature debut from Crehan that does justice to the grand tradition of Irish comedic plays and films. Due to the road trip nature of the film, we get to see some gorgeous sights, but there isn’t a single ceilidh band to be seen or heard or any of the other stereotypical Irish clichés you may be expecting. The central trio have brilliant chemistry and being trapped in a car with them for the majority of the running-time is a joy. Crehan does not take any easy routes with topics such as autism, teen pregnancy and family relationships – the characters are layered and flawed and seem like real human beings. It’s funny, romantic and very well-written and performed – The Last Right is a little gem of a film and now the US get to discover it.
The Last Right is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and Digital | Video On Demand starting April 9th 2021 in the US.