Fans of Ken Loach and the Dardenne brothers shouldn’t miss Paddy Breathnach’s Rosie. This moving portrait of working class life is kitchen sink realism without the sink. The film stars Penny Dreadful’s Sarah Greene as Rosie Davis. She is a mother of four desperately trying to find her kids a home. She struggles daily, schlepping the kids from hotel to school, and searches for lodging both temporary and permanent to manage their homelessness. However, with few options in their reach and fewer resources to support them, Rosie’s family embodies a familiar struggle. Rosie puts a human face on the ordinary families who suffer in the present housing crisis. For anyone who has ever worked hard and worried about how to pay for tomorrow, Rosie hits a nerve.
Rosie comes to the screen as an event of sorts despite the dire subject matter. It’s the first screenplay in nearly two decades from Roddy Doyle. 18 years after When Brendan Met Trudy and nearly 30 years after his masterful The Commitments, Doyle is back in his element. (We’ll forgive him for all those novels in between!) Rosie could easily be the child of two Dublin scenesters who saw their lives explode on screen in The Commitments. But where The Commitments found hope and optimism within the life-affirming pulse of soul music and rock-n-roll, Rosie sees its young Dubliner scrape desperately for a lifeline. Doyle’s scripts capture the hope, or lack thereof, that divides these two generations.
There is barely a note of rock to be heard in Rosie. The young woman, barely 30 years old, hardly finds a moment of respite. She spends each day calling numbers on a list of hotels that offer rooms paid for by Dublin city council. Rosie and her kids spend their lives on standby. The film captures the grating uncertainty of homelessness as their odds for securing shelter dwindle with each hour. Each day sees them clear house for paying guests. Rosie can’t secure long-term shelter for her family when concerns for the day-by-bay consume her.
A Working Class Hero
But where musical beats fuel The Commitments, Rosie’s heartbeat drives this film. Breathnach, who showed such a wonderfully observant hand at depicting the margins in the 2015 Oscar-shortlisted Viva with its portrait of Cuba’s gay community, injects Rosie with the same vitality that made his queer Cuban drama so strong. While Rosie evokes the working class spirit of Ken Loach, it isn’t “old man’s cinema.” (I literally have a Pavlovian reflex and yawn whenever I hear or read the name “Ken Loach.”) Instead, Rosie pulses with the restlessness of its protagonist’s generation. The film hones in close on Greene, invading her privacy and getting up in her face, as it observes hard-working families who can’t afford homes. The film positions Rosie as a working class hero simply for her indefatigable devotion to provide her kids a functional present and a hopeful future.
Greene carries virtually every frame of the film. She repeats the same lines over and over as Rosie searches for shelter. Rosie knows the drill, but Greene’s performance conveys both the crushing monotony and the element of performance it involves. Each call hinges on Rosie’s pleasant demeanour and her willingness to put on a brave face that hides her struggles. Greene is remarkably good. She finds excellent screen partners not only in Moe Dunford as Rosie’s spouse John Paul, but also in the quartet of young performers who play her children. The film authentically drops audiences into one family’s everyday struggle and leaves us waiting in suspenseful hope for their survival.
Rosie opens in Toronto at the Carlton on Jan. 31.