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You’re Ugly Too

Life goes on

You might sum up the plot of this film as “probation in the middle of nowhere”. Not that the film’s main appeal lies in its plot, according to our reviewer Phil Butland.

You might know Aidan Gillen from the television: in “Queer as Folk” he plays the promiscuous Stuart, in “The Wire” the ambitious Tommy Carcetti. He can currently be seen scheming as Petyr Baelish in “Game Of Thrones”. All charismatic and charming roles where Gillen has to fight for attention with a panoply of stars.

In the film “You’re Ugly Too”, running in German cinemas from November 19th, we see a very different Aiden Gillen, who allows himself to be outacted by an 11-year old girl.

Jailbird and Little Madam

Gillen’s character Will has been released early from prison following the death of his sister. To stay out of jail, he must prove that he is able to look after his eleven year old niece Stacey. The problem is that he can barely take care of herself. He has only taken responsibility once in his life – and that’s what landed him in jail in the first place.

This film could easily have been a banal morality tale, in which niece and uncle learn from each other and all their problems are solved by the final reel. When their Belgian neighbour Emilie turns up, the seeds are planted for a pleasant love story – nice while it lasts but easily forgotten.

It is to the credit of director Mark Noonan and the actresses and actors that “You’re Ugly Too” delivers much more than this. Lauren Kinsella plays Stacey as a sweary little madam, but she’s never annoyingly precocious. The permanent verbal battles between uncle and niece – most of which are won by Stacey – remain funny and believable.

Will is loveable, but he’s also weak. He attempts to adjust to adult life, but as an ex-con finds it difficult to find a job. Frustration leads him to drink, and then to stealing the amphetamines that Stacey is prescribed for her narcolepsy.

Adapting genres from alternative cinema

Noonan employs two popular genres from US-American arthouse cinema – the road movie, in which two quite different characters are compelled to travel long distances together, and the trailer park, where members of the so-called “underclass” are condemned to live until their inevitable demise.

In the vast USA, such techniques highlight the isolation of the protagonists. In Ireland, where the longest road will take you to the sea within a couple of hours, and where trailer parks are never far from the nearest village, we see that Will and Stacey are never fully cut off from a vibrant society. The trailer park is indeed a kind of limbo – a new prison from which Will cannot escape – but it is always connected to the outside world.

Emilie and her Romanian husband Tibor are just as much part of this world as their Irish neighbours. Throughout the film, no-one mentions their nationality. Noonan, whose partner is also from Belgium, has remarked that most Irish villages are now hosts to a plethora of nationalities. If Emilie and Tibor had a different skin colour it may have been different, but Noonan believes that it would have been inauthentic to show anyone making an issue of their background.

This refusal to remark upon the unremarkable is typical of Noonan’s undidactic style. In an interview, he has said “I think it’s very important to leave the audience room for speculation. I don’t like films where everything is explained in the smallest detail.” As director, he never acts as if he knows more than us, preferring to show us scenes which we have to interpret ourselves.

For exactly this reason, some people will find “You’re Ugly Too” frustrating. There is no happy endings, and no great tragedy, just a series of small victories and defeats. We see small excerpts from the lives of the protagonists – life goes on, sometimes better, sometimes worse.

Without Gillen and Kinsella, the film could have descended into irrelevance. Instead, “You’re Ugly Too” is, for me, a return to how films should be made. I’m already looking forward to Noonan’s next film.

The film: “You’re Ugly Too” (German title “Familienbande”), directed by Mark Noonan, Ireland in 2014, Pandora Filmverleih 80 minutes. In German cinemas from 19 November.

The original version of this review appeared on the marx21 Website on November 18, 2015:

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