From David N. Butterworth@21:1/5 to All on Sat Apr 29 10:07:29 2017
A film review by David N. Butterworth
Copyright 2017 David N. Butterworth
**1/2 (out of ****)
"Rat" is a complete and utter shaggy dog story set in Ireland, only the
shaggy dog is a rat. And it's a real rat at that, *rattus norvegicus*, not some poorly-designed animatronic rodent that pops up from out of a tin of biscuits--"Cream Crackers? Digestives? Ryvita?"--despite the production
being financed by the Jim Henson Company. Steve Barron's film is a
boisterous, PG-rated family affair, populated with wonderfully colorful characters and driven by wall-to-wall zaniness. Family-friendly, I
suppose, even though Pete Postlethwaite does appear buck naked, covering
his unmentionables with a duck. Unfortunately, it all goes on a bit too
But shorter than 90 minutes would have meant a lot less of Imelda
Staunton (vile Professor Umbrage in the Harry Potter films) who, as usual,
is magnificent. Staunton plays Conchita Flynn, a Dublin housewife whose husband Hubert (Postlethwaite) returns from the pub one evening and
promptly turns into a rat--poof!--like it's the most natural thing in the world. As Conchita describes the tabloid-worthy event, "He was just in
from the pub, lyin' down with a paper, as was his wont, pickin' out the
horses for tomorrow. And I was goin' 'round the room, and collectin' up
the dirty clothes, and makin' a few *gentle* remarks on the subject of
personal hygiene. And he was lyin' there, lettin' on like he didn't hear
me. So I was quietly rippin' the newspaper out of his hands, in order to
gain his attention, when..."
We don't witness the transformation (ala "An American Werewolf in
London") per se. There's just a rat sat on Hubert's chair five minutes in, faced with a full Irish breakfast and Conchita's complainin' about him
leavin' droppings all over the good doilies.
The odd family caught up in all this straight-faced silliness include daughter Marietta (Kerry Condon), always snogging; son Pious (Andrew
Lovern), studying for the priesthood; and pompous Uncle Frank (Frank
Kelly), who's constantly spewing dubious factoids--"What you've got to appreciate is that turnin' into a rat causes severe contraction of the ecephalogical muscles and blockage of the nuerolaptical tubes." There's
also a sketchy earring-wearing reporter, Phelim Spratt (David Wilmot), who wants to capture the whole Kafka-esque shenanigans in a book (rhymes with nuke). Writer Wesley Burrowes is clearly having fun.
With an eclectic soundtrack that works in songs by Doris Day, Alan Dee
& The Chessmen, Coast to Coast, and Rosemary Clooney alongside familiar standards by von Tilzer ("A Bird in a Gilded Cage") and Orff ("O Fortuna"), "Rat" is a terrific showcase for the wonderfully versatile Staunton,
although even she can't prevent the film from running out of steam before (SPOILER!) Hubert's reappearance in the altogether slash fridge.
Perhaps the film's tagline sums things up best: "He might eat maggots
and live in a cage but he's still our Dad."