"Songs for Amy," the debut feature film from Irish director Konrad Begg that premiered this week at the Newport Beach Film Festival, opens with a quotation.
"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music."
Begg treats Aldous Huxley's epigram more as hypothesis than comment. His movie is as much about that silence as it is about the music.
His protagonist, Sean O'Malley (played by Sean Maguire), is an inarticulate singer-songwriter. Sean falls in love with a girl called Amy (Lorna Anderson), loses her to a pop star, then sets about trying to win her back with a private album his band records just for her.
The plot presents Sean with other opportunities to win Amy back, through eloquence or grand gesture, and he fails.
The failure seems to be one of screenwriting until the director's intentions become clear.
At one point, after an enormous coincidence and the maneuvers of friends that contrive to bring Sean and Amy back together, Sean delivers his big speech: "I still love you. I just [blanked] up."
His intensity is clear, but he has nothing more to say.
Begg said the scene was true to life.
"A lot of musicians I know, the only way they have to [express their emotions] is by writing a song," he said. "When you listen to a lot of musicians speaking, they're a little frustrated. Whereas in their songs, it is very intricate and heartfelt."
Sean isn't given a lovely speech to deliver to Amy because, Begg said, "we wanted everything to be genuine. What he was saying was real. Consistently in film, romance and love are portrayed in a very unreal way."
The unreality of rom-com clichés was the inspiration for the movie's best scene, where a bunch of friends all pile into a van to race to the airport so that — well, you know how that scene ends: with a horse in traffic, some sort of flash mob, or a subway declaration capped off with the slow clap.
Begg has a different take.
"We intentionally followed a very stereotypical ending," he said. Without giving away the end, he says: "I've always found the idea of failed heroism very amusing."
More than a failed hero, Sean O'Malley is a romantic antihero.
The only thing he can do to win Amy back is to seek some sort of pure expression in his songwriting.
Even when the plot, through a couple of dei in the machina, practically delivers her to him, he can't close the deal.
Granted, Sean did miss his own wedding, which isn't the sort of thing one forgives easily. But he didn't cheat on her.
Sean was having a few drinks in a Galway pub with his bandmates on the eve of his wedding, when they met some rock stars, drank a concoction of poitín, absinthe, hand sanitizer and cocaine, then woke up 100 kilometers away in Limerick.
Amy runs off to New York, leaving Sean to sit on chilly docksides staring mournfully into the haze, drinking too much and channeling his feelings into his songs, which form the film's original soundtrack.
It's those songs, rather than any sort of action he takes, that determine whether Amy will love him, because for Begg, art and love come from the same place.
"It's about creating things from the heart," he said, "rather than any sort of commercial gain or to be cool or anything."
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