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No shamrocks in 'When Brendan Met Trudy'

By Phil Leckman

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Irish film avoids stereotypes, portrays worldly view of Dublin

Grade: A-

Think of Ireland, and chances are a very specific set of images will spring to mind - green hills, craggy cliffs, small farms and little stone walls. Think of Irish movies, and you'll likely come up with films featuring these same heartwarming, nostalgic scenes - the rustic villagers of "Waking Ned Devine," or the mystical fishermen of "The Secret of Roan Inish."

But there is another Ireland beyond this emerald-green greeting card. Dublin, the nation's capital, is a major cosmopolitan city and the nation's economy, sparked by major investments in high-tech industry, is one of the fastest growing in Europe.

Filmmaker Roddy Doyle has devoted his career to showing this more worldly side of the Emerald Isle. This continues in "When Brendan Met Trudy," his latest film, which opens today at the Catalina Theaters as part of the Shooting Gallery series of independent and foreign films. In many ways, Brendan (Peter MacDonald), the film's nebbishy narrator, embodies the collision between Ireland's traditional past and its cosmopolitan reality.

A half-hearted school teacher, Brendan seems a bit old-fashioned. He sings in a Catholic choir and exhibits a stuffy reserve that seems a relic of another time. Brendan is never without his suit and tie. He has a soft spot for traditional Irish tenors, and hates computers with a passion. But Brendan is also an inveterate film buff, enlivening his solitary existence with classics from the '50s, '60s, and '70s.

Trudy, a vibrant blonde, is brash and plain-spoken, with a mysterious night life, hip friends and a devil-may-care attitude. Unsurprisingly, the two fall in love, and Trudy's impetous, fun-loving spark quickly turns Brendan's world on its head.

"Brendan and Trudy" is a strange film, full of odd plot twists and hilariously off-kilter non-sequiturs. Once things are up and running, it is nearly impossible to predict where the film will end up. Filmmaker Doyle uses Brendan's yen for movies as an excuse to honor to his own cinematic influences, weaving homages to classic films like "Sunset Boulevard" and filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard into the film's fabric. This light-hearted mugging only adds to the light-hearted, meandering lack of focus.

But while "Brendan and Trudy" is an engaging and successful romantic comedy, it's a little harder to pin down what makes the film distinctly Irish besides the funny accents. In many ways, this is Doyle's least stereotypically "Irish" film so far. The action here plays out in crowded apartments and late-night supermarkets, not misty pastures. Except for a brief jaunt Brendan and Trudy take through the countryside, the green fields and thatched cottages that stereotypically symbolize Irish film are totally absent here, replaced by the highrises and busy streets of Dublin. The character's romantic chemistry is authentically fiery, and ends up in bed after the first date - so much for Ireland's famous Catholic guilt.

Perhaps this is Doyle's goal, to free his country from the homespun clichˇs that continue to symbolize Ireland for the rest of the world. Although it lacks the St. Patrick's Day trappings of more conspiciously "Irish" films like "Ned Devine," a certain common spirit shines through. "Brendan and Trudy" has a freshness and a sense of humor, a gentle warmth, that may be what being Irish is really all about.