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Not Odd Enough

The mismatched couple of When Brendan Met Trudy never quite jells

There is something Walter Mitty-esque about Brendan, the male lead of the modest romantic comedy When Brendan Met Trudy. Brendan is a 28-year-old Dublin high-school teacher who is as uninspired by his work as he is uninspiring to his students. But whereas James Thurber's classic hero enlivened his mundane existence by envisaging himself in all manner of heroic situations, Brendan basically just sits by the classroom window, staring off into space. We never see his alternate reality.

That may be because Brendan (Peter McDonald) is such a dull bulb that he can't even manage to concoct an imaginary life. Instead, he daydreams of his favorite movie heroes: John Wayne, slowly turning and walking away in the closing scene of The Searchers; William Holden, face-down in the swimming pool in the opening scene of Sunset Boulevard.

Brendan's life, such as it is, revolves around school, choir practice and watching movies. One evening in the pub, where he sits by himself rather than mingle with his choirmates, he is accosted by Trudy (Flora Montgomery), a vivacious Montessori schoolteacher who whisks him off his feet with her bubbly personality. For Brendan, whose experience with the opposite sex is limited, it's love at first encounter. Trudy is not quite what she appears to be, however, and as Brendan struggles to win her affections, he discovers that she actually lives out her fantasies, which are of a larcenous nature. The Milquetoast schoolteacher's life is turned upside down.

Not that you would know it from McDonald's deadpan expression. The actor plays the type of character Jack Lemmon pretty much perfected: the introverted, never-make-waves straight arrow who has always toed the line but is suddenly faced with the opportunity to let loose. In McDonald's hands, however, it isn't all that funny, possibly because Brendan isn't neurotic but simply uninteresting. Lemmon's characters rarely had charm, but they did manage to win the audience's affection, a trick McDonald hasn't mastered here.

It's a wonder that he wins Trudy's affection, but what would a romantic comedy be without romance? Montgomery is the best thing about this movie, which marks director Kieron J. Walsh's feature debut and is based on an original screenplay by Irish novelist Roddy Doyle. Doyle is best known as the author of The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van, all of which were turned into successful films (he wrote or co-wrote all three screenplays), none more so than The Commitments, an infectious and entertaining movie about the rise of an Irish soul band that was one of director Alan Parker's biggest hits.

Montgomery, a British television and theater actress who looks remarkably like Ellen DeGeneres, has a sort of effortless charm. It would have been nice to have some backstory on her -- did she come from a long line of cat thieves, for instance? It's unclear why she would fall for Brendan, but presumably they are supposed to be one of the famously mismatched couples that have been a staple of movies since the screwball comedies of the 1930s. Truth to tell, this film could have used a lot more of the old screwball sensibility.

 
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