A young woman tracks down her biological mother in Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy’s gripping study of trauma and identity.
In life, there are professions available to those who seek them which enable you to administer a lethal injection to a live animal. You prep the needle. You deliver the poison.
Then you stand back and watch the animal die. Rose Plays Julie, the extraordinary new reflexive drama by Irish filmmakers Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy, presents a young woman named Rose (Ann Skelly) in the process of becoming a veterinarian, and such a life-or-death procedure is vital to the learning process. It’s not just the technical aspects, but the emotional side: being able to coldly and calmly accept that death is the only humane course of action.
The business of putting lame animals to sleep is water off a (dead) duck’s back for Rose, but there’s the suggestion that her prospective occupation has triggered a desire to set her own affairs in order. Rose discovers she was adopted, and wants to know who her real parents are. She heads to London and cleverly ensnares a popular TV actor named Ellen (Orla Brady) into revealing the details of her birth, which in turn sheds light on why Rose was put up for adoption in the first place by this successful professional who, it transpires, went on to have other children.
The story of her procreation is beyond her darkest dreams, and Ellen is forced to excavate the bible-black memories of her deepest soul in order to give Rose the truth she so deserves. The sequence is genuinely harrowing, as well as being harrowingly genuine, in that it reflects the difficulty that comes with unloading repressed traumas that place popular men in the crosshairs.
The popular man in this instance is Aiden Gillen’s Peter, who does his own form of excavation as a squeaky clean TV archaeologist. But like Ellen, there’s a stark disparity between the person he presents on camera and the persona he presents off it. In some ways, Rose Plays Julie is stealthily critical of the screen’s ability to allow evil people to hide from reality.
Yet it also suggests that performance can allow a person to be anyone they want to be. Ellen’s trauma is transferred to Rose and exacerbated by the added element of surprise, and so the daughter decides to invent her own “character” named Julie and, as she did with her mother, infiltrate the life of her estranged father and probe for ways to make him confront the pain he caused her mother.
What’s great about Rose Plays Julie is that it works as a kind of trashy and gleefully contrived revenge thriller, particularly in its more tense second half. But every decision and every moment is loaded with complex ethical dilemmas and difficult questions about how we go about laying our personal demons to rest. We can’t just give them a lethal injection and stand and watch as they expire. Or can we?
Published 13 Sep 2021
Lawlor and Molloy rarely put a foot wrong, so excited to see this new one.
The pair’s most ambitious and provocative film yet.
Would make a fascinating, ethically thorny double feature with Promising Young Woman.