Run & Jump
Germany, Ireland 2013
Directed by Steph Green
Written by Ailbhe Keogan
Run & Jump tells an emotionally charged tale of an Irish family shaken by a freak trauma after the head of household, Conor (Edward MacLiam), suffers a stroke that drastically alters his personality and perception of the world. His stalwart wife, Vanetia (Maxine Peake), labors with all the enthusiasm she can muster to maintain as much normalcy in the family dynamic as possible. Some of that normalcy is threatened, and then restored, and then threatened again for other reasons as the family welcomes Ted (Will Forte), an American neuropsychologist and researcher, into their lives. Ted intends to study Conor’s progress during his reinstatement to daily living, but the family soon absorbs him into their affairs on a personal level and gradually groom him to take Conor’s place.
One of the first things Vanetia notices about her transformed husband after bringing him home from the hospital is his new obsession with nature shows. Ted explains to her that most likely the attraction is due to the emotional simplicity of animals. They don’t demand as much understanding as full feeling human beings. Well, feelings definitely get messy and problematic over the course of this film, but the understanding and empathy they demand is easily given.
An odd set of circumstances confuses Vanetia’s ability to cope with her new life. The man she loves isn’t dead, and yet he’s gone forever all the same. How is someone supposed to feel about something like that? Grateful he survived? Grieved he’ll never be the same again? Nostalgic for an irretrievable past and burdened by an uncertain but assuredly challenging road ahead? Somehow actress Maxine Peake resolves all possibilities and makes her character’s optimistic commitment endearing and wholeheartedly convincing.
Ted provides another example of the precarious but inescapable nature of human emotions. At first a passionless presence in the house, Ted’s feelings for Vanetia and her family inevitably become something other than clinical curiosity. Ted might be as hopeless as his subject when it comes to engaging with emotions. Asked if he has a family, Ted replies, no, “I’m a scientist instead,” implying that life as a researcher necessitates detachment. Intimacy and involvement prove irresistible, however, as his interactions with Vanetia start to stir a dormant longing in him. The restrained rate and manner with which Forte exposes the layers of Ted’s personality evidences an impressive dramatic side to the typically comedic actor.
Conor and Vanetia’s adolescent son, Lenny (Brendan Morris), has just started to confront some complicated feelings of his own, and his unsympathetic father’s doesn’t help matters by calling his son girl names and using homophobic slurs. Lenny’s subplot is conducted beautifully throughout most of the film, providing moments both aptly heart-wrenching and triumphant, but it also allows for the script’s only moment of pure melodrama that, while forgivable, also mars an otherwise delicately balanced sensibility.
The doomed love story on display here hits numerous high and low notes that magically congeal to produce the perfect tonal quality, something not too sweet, not too melancholy. And screenwriter Ailbhe Keogan maintains lightheartedness by bestowing her characters with delightful idiosyncrasies but resists the temptation to reduce them to their quirks like so many other indie comedies. Run & Jump could have been a disaster of sentimental drivel, but thanks to a compassionate but sensible creative team, it builds a solid foundation out of a chaotic emotional landscape.