Lisa Schwarzbaum
March 17, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST


Current Status
In Season
U2, Various Artists

We gave it an A-

How refreshing: The Dublin of the rollicking good Irish comic drama Intermission isn’t quaint, or seedy, or even distinguishable from any other rusting urban pocket in the English-speaking world of thick accents and foamy ale. The residents whose lives intersect have problems and quirks — the plot is a basket weave of gritty woes — but no one is so outstandingly adorable that things are bound to go his way (and that’s counting even Colin Farrell and ”28 Days Later”’s Cillian Murphy among the adorables), nor so miserable that you’d want to call in the economic-iniquity police on retainer to filmmakers Mike Leigh and Ken Loach.

On the contrary, the Dublin of this vinegary slice-o’-life drama — written by young native playwright Mark O’Rowe and directed with panache and a fondness for handheld camera by John Crowley — is an average armpit of a place, and more’s the pleasure. The ”intermission” that sets events in motion here is an unremarkable pause in the romance between John (Murphy), a slacker supermarket-stock drone, and his girlfriend, Deirdre (Kelly Macdonald). In one major story strand Deirdre takes up with a married local bank manager, John mopes with his mate Oscar (David Wilmot), and Deirdre’s drab sister, Sally (another terrific squashed-woman performance from Shirley Henderson), nurses a bitterness made manifest in the distracting facial hair on her upper lip. In another strand, a hothead hooligan (Farrell, ablaze) tangles with a steely detective (Colm Meaney, equally charged).

An evil rock-throwing kid on a bike is another story; so’s the bank manager’s abandoned wife learning to be her own best friend. The film hums with energy, yet it has an unhurried feeling. ”Intermission” is the first Irish creation I’ve seen in ages to pull off the high-difficulty feat of trafficking in grit, drollery, and emotion without turning to blarney as a crutch.

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