Delightful and homey, 'The Snapper' is small in a majestic way


Sometimes small is really big.

That's the case with "The Snapper," the thoroughly delightful comedy set so blissfully in the quotidian that it seems not to acknowledge a neighborhood beyond the next block.

It's small in a majestic way. It is, in fact, the biggest small movie you ever saw.

So settled and homey, in fact, is "The Snapper" that it's truly mind-blowing to contemplate that its director is one of the most cosmopolitan and accomplished of filmmakers, the very same Britisher Stephen Frears who has so dazzlingly slid through movie cultures.

After all, as an Englishman, he made the brilliant "The Hit," "My Beautiful Laundrette," "Prick Up Your Ears" and "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid"; then he made the exquisite "Dangerous Liaisons," with an American cast, and followed up with two quintessentially American films: "The Grifters" (based on a Jim Thompson novel!) and "Hero."

And now he's Irish!

"The Snapper" is set in a working-class suburb of Dublin and feels completely real. It's as though Frears, in an epic of imagining, has willed himself to forget the sophistication and irony of his previous work, abandoned totally his Cambridge education and redefined himself as a working-class Irishman. That's how condescension-free and completely unstudied is "The Snapper."

Derived from a novel (and screenplay) by the Irish talent Roddy Doyle (who has just broken through with his novel "Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha"), the film tells the story of domestic tranquillity unhinged, as an unmarried pregnancy comes to visit the Curley Clan.

That the new babe dozing and growing and prospering in eldest daughter Sharon's stomach is nicknamed the Snapper is perhaps some indication of just how unsentimental and bracing is the film. There's not a lot of mooning over ultimate meanings, just the realization that things are changing permanently. This is a practical household.

Father Dessie (Colm Meaney) is good-hearted and well-meaning, but utterly without a vocabulary to deal with the issue. He knows one thing: He loves his daughter just as he loves his family. Meaney is superb: You feel his compassion and awkwardness stumbling against each other like drunken dancers at a wedding. The harder he tries, the more he bumbles things.

Meanwhile, Sharon is keeping mum about one thing, which is the identity of the Snapper's father, as she and her dad set off to childbirth classes and her mum Kay (Ruth McCabe) tries to keep the unruly siblings -- all five of them -- in hand. Frears seems to relish in the chaos of family living, the clashing idiosyncrasies and rhythms, the endless squabbling and the love.

"The Snapper" isn't sophisticated situational comedy American TV style, which feels shaped and honed to milk maximum laughs out of minimum material just before the refrigerator commercial. It doesn't have that professional sheen, in which the most miraculous quips blast off the lips of its most mundane characters.

Instead it feels messy and alive, just like a newborn. It stinks a little, but it's great fun and it won't stop howling.

"The Snapper"

Starring Colm Meaney and Tina Kellegher

Directed by Stephen Frears

Released by Miramax



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