'Turning Green,' Longing For Red, White And Blue

Donal Gallery, Standing Alone

Lost Horizons: Ireland's picture-postcard vistas are lost on disaffected 16-year-old James (Donal Gallery), who's got something (mostly profane things) to say about every swath of scenery. New Films International hide caption

itoggle caption New Films International

Turning Green

  • Directors: Michael Aimette, John G. Hofmann
  • Genre: Black comedy
  • Running Time: 82 minutes

Unrated: Partial nudity, violence, profanity

With: Donal Gallery, Timothy Hutton, Alessandro Nivola, Colm Meaney

The title of Turning Green refers to several things, including the conversion of Irish currency to U.S. dollars. What it doesn't connote is that the movie's protagonist, an American-born 16-year-old, is becoming Irish.

James (Donal Gallery) stubbornly refuses to do that, even six years after his mother died and his father shipped his two sons to Wickford to live with what James calls "our three heinous aunts."

Set in 1979, Turning Green opens with tourist-board images of Ireland's natural beauty and small-town charm. But every postcard-worthy vista is undercut by James' remarks, which describe his unadopted country in terms that are mostly too earthy to be quoted.

This introduction sets the tone for what might otherwise have been a routine coming-of-age parable. The story that writers-directors Michael Aimette and John G. Hofmann have crafted isn't novel, but it's enlivened by witty asides and playful commentary.

All James wants from Ireland is a ticket back to New York. Two tickets, actually — he intends to take his 11-year-old brother, Pete (Killian Morgan), with him. To raise money for their escape, James has quit school in favor of various unseemly pursuits, including bar bets. That's another meaning for the movie's title: Green is the color the teenager turns after chugging more beer than grizzled pub veterans wagered he could.

Colm Meaney at window i i

A hard-drinking local fisherman (Colm Meaney) takes James under his wing — though his affection comes cloaked in language as hostile as James' own. New Films International hide caption

itoggle caption New Films International
Colm Meaney at window

A hard-drinking local fisherman (Colm Meaney) takes James under his wing — though his affection comes cloaked in language as hostile as James' own.

New Films International

James' major source of income is collecting debts for Bill the Bookie (Alessandro Nivola), a dog-track baron who can pass for smooth in this rough town. James handles the easy cases; the hard ones go to Bill the Breaker (Timothy Hutton), a greasy-haired goon with few scruples and less finesse.

Although James has no pals his own age, he has developed an Irish-style friendship with Tom (Colm Meaney), an alcoholic sometime fisherman who regularly owes money to the Bills. Tom's affection for James is hidden in hostile bluster, which is helpfully subtitled to reveal its true meaning.

James spends a lot of time in the bathroom, pursuing an interest his aunts (the amusingly brittle Billie Traynor, Deirdre Monaghan and Brid Ni Chionaola) can't glean, but won't surprise any former 16-year-old boy. They decide their nephew is constipated, and send him to a specialist in London.

Expecting a swinging city, James is disappointed: same food, same attitudes. But one thing is different. News agents carry a wealth of magazines with pictures of naked women, publications that are illegal in Ireland. Soon, the entrepreneurial teen has a thriving import business in skin mags, one that attracts unwanted attention; this leads to a gangster-flick showdown that lacks the preceding scenes' puckish self-awareness.

Visually, the movie is also rather ordinary, and its use of pop songs (all much more recent than 1979) can be heavy-handed. On balance, though, Turning Green is more fresh than stale. Gallery holds his own impressively with the better-known supporting players, and the script — a Project Greenlight runner-up — is solidly constructed. Aimette and Hofmann may not be in the same league as the great Irish writers they briefly invoke, but for a couple of Yanks making their first feature, they've drawn a perceptive sketch of the Old Sod.

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