- Directed by: Paddy Breathnach
- Written by: Roddy Doyle
- Starring: Sarah Greene, Moe Dunford, Ellie O’Halloran, Ruby Dunne, Darragh McKenzie and Molly McCann
- Classification: PG
- Length: 86 mins
There’s a cinéma verité-like feeling to Irish filmmaker Paddy Breathnach’s latest feature Rosie, which makes sense since he started out making documentaries for RTE Irish Television before embarking on fictional films such as I Went Down and Viva.
Rosie tells the story of a working-class Irish family caught in the country’s housing crisis by following them over a period of 36 hours. There’s a mundane repetitiveness to the story that reflects the bleak realities of a family on the brink of homelessness – right from its opening scene. The titular character Rosie Davis (Sarah Greene), mother to four children by her partner John Paul Brady (Moe Dunford), is “looking for a family room, for six.”
They’re all crammed in a small car. Her teenage daughter Kayleigh (Ellie O’Halloran) does her homework in the passenger seat in the front, while three younger children Millie (Ruby Dunne), Alfie (Darragh McKenzie) and Madison (Molly McCann) raise a ruckus in the back seat. Turning around to shush them every now and again, Rosie works down a list of hotels, phoning each with the same request.
She needs to find a room, even if it’s for “one night, just.” There’s a hesitation in her voice, worry in her eyes, as she mentions the Dublin City Council credit card she’d use as payment. When she does manage to find a room, her family drags their belongings in large, black garbage bags into their temporary sanctuary.
After a long day’s work in a restaurant kitchen, falling asleep on the bus ride to the hotel, John Paul helps settle his family in – even if it means running to the car in the middle of the night to fetch youngest daughter Madison’s favourite toy, Peachy, a stuffed rabbit she needs to fall asleep.
By employing techniques such as close-ups, extreme close-ups and hand-held long shots, Breathnach offers the viewer an unflinching look at Rosie’s desperation, even as she’s trying to keep up appearances. “We’re not homeless. We’re just lost,” she says, part-bristling, part-pleading at one point, when explaining her situation to extended family members. “We lost our keys. That’s what it feels like.”
They had to leave their rental home of seven years because the landlord is selling it. A family secret precludes Rosie from taking help from immediate family. Rosie and John Paul don’t want to burden their friends either, who are also struggling. Booker Prize-winning author Roddy Doyle has woven a compelling story out of a radio report he heard about a homeless young woman trying to find a place to stay for her family for a night.
Doyle gives Rosie’s family a gentle dignity. Yes, the children whine and complain, especially at having to move every now and again, stuck for long periods in the car. But they also know their parents are trying to do the best they can, despite pitying glances of friends and strangers.
Rosie’s patience with her children, her partner and the dire situation they are in, is heartbreaking. Greene does a formidable job, showing us the vulnerability behind her steely resolve to keep her family together. She only breaks down, just for a moment, when her mothering is called into question. Greene is wonderfully supported by Dunford and the four young actors in their debut roles.
Given the affordable-housing crisis in Canadian cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, there’s a lot to relate to in Rosie. One can only hope that if caught in a similar situation, one has Rosie’s grace to keep going.
Rosie opens in Toronto, Edmonton and Regina on Jan. 31; in Calgary on Feb. 7; in Saskatoon on Feb. 14; and in Ottawa on March 13.