By Ross Miller
What effect does a family member suddenly suffering a life altering illness have on family life? That’s the theme explored at the centre of Run & Jump, a heartfelt and affecting Ireland-set family drama from writer/director Steph Green.
When father and husband Conor (Edward MacLiam) suffers a stroke, it leads to a severe change in his personality and behaviour. His family, especially his wife Vanetia (Maxine Peake), struggle to cope with the adjustment while at the same time dealing with hosting neuropsychologist Ted (Will Forte), who is at their house on assignment to observe and document Conor’s new behaviour.
This is a film that tries to tackle many different things at once. As well as the main thrust of the story being dealing with Conor’s rehabilitation and reintegration into normal, everyday life we also have the dynamic surrounding an outside observer getting a little too involved in the family’s life, Conor’s parents becoming increasingly frustrated that their same old son is no longer there and Conor and Vanetia’s son dealing with homophobic bullying. It’s admirable in its intent to deal with all these things simultaneously but isn’t entirely successful in doing so.
Some aspects work really well, especially in the scenes exploring Conor’s illness and how it physically and psychologically impacts those around him, while others feel inadequately explored in the relatively swift 100 minute runtime, particularly the subplot involving Paddy (Michael Harding) dealing with his sexuality. An altogether simpler approach may have made the film flow better rather than trying its damnedest to handle so many different things at once.
Nevertheless the film has a lot going for it, not least in the likeable and believable performances by its cast. Forte is particularly effective as the visiting doctor who starts out as a quiet observer but gets sucked in by the Irish charm of a family hurting and struggling in more ways than one, continuing to prove his dramatic acting chops after recently impressing in Alexander’s Payne’s Nebraska. Peake does very well with the difficult role of Vanetia, a mother caught between trying to keep her family unit together and trying to come to terms with the way her husband is while longing for the way he once was. And MacLiam brings subtlety to a potentially caricaturish portrayal, and his skill in the present day scenes showing how the stroke has affected his behaviour is only highlighted with flashback scenes showing Conor the way he used to be.
Despite it never quite having a grip on all the different themes and subplot its presents, Run & Jump is nevertheless a beautiful, emotional and engaging watch in its own little way, one that sincerely sheds light on how illness can affect those around the victim as well as the victim themselves. And it all builds to an ending that impressively manages to achieve some sort of catharsis for the believably flawed characters it presents.