DON’T TALK TO IRENE takes its cue from Woody Allen’s PLAY IT AGAIN SAM the Herbert Ross film where the Allen character takes advice from Humphrey Bogart with regards to getting a girl. In DON’T TALK TO IRENE, the protagonist, an overweight teenage girl takes advice from Geena Davis as she follows a different goal, in this case of pursuing her passion for cheerleading. She signs up for a talent-search reality show in order to prove that “physical perfection” isn’t everything.
Irene Willis (Michelle McLeod) lives in a town of a small fictional town of Parc supposed to be just north of Toronto. The film was shot in Hamilton, Ontario. It is described in the film as the worst of small towns, where Irene goes to the worst of high schools. Her cycle of life is predictable and bland. Fuelled by the dream of becoming a cheerleader, but constantly told by both her overprotective mother (Anastasia Philips) and classmates that she does not fit the mild of a cheerleader. But Geena Davis, speaking to Irene via the A League of Their Own poster on her bedroom wall tells her “Never quit!”
When Irene gets suspended and is forced to do community service at a retirement home — run by Barrett (Kids in the Hall’s Scott Thompson) — alongside her bullies and her new friend, Tesh (a gender non-conforming, glitzy dreamer), an opportunity arises. She rounds up her new-found circle of elderly friends into an unlikely dance troupe.
The film has the story of a socially unaccepted underdog doing it successfully at the end. It is an age old story which audiences have seen time and again. In fact this is not the first film in which seniors enter a dance competition.
But it is often the story that does not make a good film. Despite the story’s limitations, the film benefits for the sly humour of its writer/director Pat Mills. Mills gives himself a cameo as a drunken teacher in a few segments in the movie. Mills, in his 2014 film, GUIDANCE, made an imprint with his dark and really funny comedy. DON’T TALK TO IRENE is not as good as GUIDANCE but it has its moments.
The character of transgendered, smart-talking Tesh is not that funny and appears in the film to set a politically correct statement. The mother and daughter relationship is also nothing new and the mother’s final acceptance of her daughter’s goals is predictable, if not tiresome. The film also aims to be too smug with strong language added to create a more edgy film. The seniors, again all try their best to show that they still have it, in terms of ingenuity, sex drive or dance skills.
McLeod is a rare find and is able to carry the film well. The film contains a nice surprise with the actual appearance of Geena Davis.
Still everyone loves a feel-good movie. Undemanding viewers should lap this tale up, with no problem at all. Critics can only wince at the goings-on of this girl that finally makes good.