Set amid the undulating hills of Kerry, Run and Jump is a colourful, fresh piece of drama that offers more than it seems to at first glance. Vanetia (Maxine Peake) is a dynamic but overburdened young mother who is forced to maintain stability for her family after a stroke leaves Conor (Edward MacLiam) unable to fulfil his roles as a father and husband. While we can only catch glimpses of how the family functioned in the past, the ‘new’ Conor is confused, unpredictable, and aggressive. The polar opposite to the reclusive Ted (Will Forte) an American academic who stays with the family to monitor and document Conor’s recovery. Vanetia is a proactive whirlwind, so caught up in fulfilling the needs of others that she neglects her own, and as the ditch widens between her and Conor she inevitably begins to develop a deeper relationship with Ted.
Written by Kerry native Ailbhe Keogan, and developed with director Steph Green, the film has a refreshingly unique and authentic voice. Ted, as the outsider American upended into Irish culture, functions as a way to serve up some of the more expected comic elements through interactions with the gossiping neighbours and quirky kids; but this is never what drives the story, it is a film focused on relationships rather than location. Keogan’s characters are fully realised, and it is their idiosyncrasies intersecting that provides the momentum, while Green is confident and deft-handed enough to allow things to stew away and develop slowly.
For a film that wears much of its plot line on its sleeve, Run and Jump still manages to be surprising. While Vanetia is the overt focus of the piece, a lot of space is given to the men around her and exploring the concept of masculinity remains a constant undercurrent. Conor, once competent in his role as father and husband is now displaced through brain injury – unwilling to spend time in the house, he sits in the workshop, carving functionless wooden spheres. Conor’s father is the old-school patriarch, unable to understand Conor’s inability to ‘be the man of the house’ while struggling himself to function in a world with a rapidly changing value system. Conor’s son, Lenny (Brendan Morris), is coming of age in a space where his father is practically absent; and Ted is taking steps away from the steely defence of academia to a place where he is forced to be more emotionally vulnerable. It’s a credit to the film that so many interesting storylines are given the space to intertwine.
Through clever and competent writing, Run and Jump is a film that crams a lot into its running time. And towards the end it does feel as if it has taken on board too much, as if there are too many ‘big issues’ and too little space to explore them. But thankfully this doesn’t mar the experience. The soft hills of Kerry provide fertile ground for exploring the natural ups and downs of life, and Run and Jump is a confident, competent, and exciting film that expertly captures them.