METAL HEART is a low-budget, feel good tale of Irish adolescent growing pains, with a strong heartfelt narrative that is as comedic as it is deep. A tale of two sisters divided by their differences, and emotionally battling to find their place in this world; the ebb and flow of their personalities and prospects change in tentative weeks before summer. Perhaps not always delving to the depths of their relationship, in a way this realistically captures the unspoken surface tension many face. As actor-turned-director, Hugh O’Conor delivers a crowd-pleasing piece that explores the bonds of friendships, lost love, and the anxieties of teen-hood.
We meet Emma (Jordanne Jones) and Chantal (Leah McNamara), who are fraternal teenage twins and, fittingly, complete polar opposites. Chantal is a blonde, beautiful socialite with a successful and ambitious blog supported by her part-time job as the sweet ice cream parlour girl, surrounded by a team of equally enthused friends and adorable doofus boyfriend. Emma, on the other hand, gets painted as the gothic loner, decked out in black lipstick and chains, and devoted to song writing for her metal band with best mate Gary before they head to college. The twins’ relationship is fraught and petty – as any siblingship is – the blank refusal to see life from the other’s perspective and ravaged with sharp digs, and angst. Their existence is shaken up by the return of next door neighbour and troublemaker Dan (Moe Dunford) a charming ex-rock singer riddled with gambling debt. The unsettling continues after their parents go away; Chantal gets into a car accident which forces her to don a restrictive neck brace and becomes a recluse to the house, which leads to Emma having to cover her job at the parlor but also gives her an opportunity to save for a deposit on a gig practice space. Et voila, the roles have reversed.
There is a charming aesthetic composition to the cinematography, most notably the opening scene of Emma’s immaculate noir laced lips and jet black hair against the white porcelain bathtub, to Gary’s brilliant scene of attempting a part-time job as a gardener which sees him begrudgingly mowing dressed in massive black wedges, gothic cloak and fedora – comical and sweet in equal measures. A frequented juxtaposition one might add, and innate reminder that the ‘abnormal’ of us still belong in society, still need part time jobs and have social lives even if they dress unconventionally. This ode of inclusivity is what is so charming about the film, it gently sheds lights without being outwardly profound or mocking, a friendly display of finding harmony out of rivalries – especially at an age which is riddled with enough worries.
The most unsuspecting character in it all was Alan, who came across at times as the schmuck beefcake boyfriend, who in fact had such utterly witty one-liners that the audience chuckled every single time, and provided such a clear perception on the toxic situations the girls kept winding themselves up in. There’s also a genius scene between the ‘boyfriends’, discussing the issues with dating girls at this age, but with a really supportive emotional masculinity (that, yes, resulted in them writing an indie rock love ballad, but there was a sweet sentiment to it). It totally played into the hands of one making automatic assumptions because of someone’s looks, when their prospects and intuition are far more enlightening than given credit for. The character dynamics of the film are a strong element, so much so that even when the plot may fall a little short, the performances stepped up to the mark and show much potential. One stereotype that was also an interesting explorational aspect was that of Dan’s washed up band member persona, and the way he manipulates both the girls emotionally, sexually and in a pitying manner. It emits undertones of reminiscing an age of Steel Panther, leopard print coats and the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll life style and how this is reimagined through the lives of these Irish teens.
At times the film does feel lacklustre, and fair to question why it had to be Emma who continually made the most impulsive irrational decisions. When you were her cheerleader from the start, frustrations began to bubble up, and perhaps her recklessness was taken too far at times to be believable. In a way it prevented one from demonising Chantel as being the ‘Regina George’ style stereotype and actually explored her story too, which is where I hoped that the relationship between the girls could have been developed more instead of slipping back into Emma having to learn from her mistakes as the troubled soul. There was also a moment girls looking after the old woman, who has a moment of clarity nostalgically reminiscing on her relationship with her own sister, that transported you to an entirely different film. That simple monologue rooted the core hope from the film, a visceral recollection that would connect with many, and even cause one to well up slightly. Until scrambled back into the quirkiness that generally embodies the film.
The exploration of a coming-of-age story has been continually developed over the years. It has occasionally slipped into the stereotypical cringe-worthy teen flick that is relatable on some levels but can also makes you grind your teeth, aghast at their stupidity. METAL HEART brilliantly circumnavigate this sinkhole, and while it won’t have a profound impact on your life – its rather enjoyable in its sentiments, surprisingly funny and provides a fresh take on the sub-genre.