Documentarian Alex Fagan takes a stripped down and unpretentious look at some of, if not THE, most widely beloved Irish national institutions: The Irish Pub.
Old school taverns with almost ancient looking stone floors, shelves of ephemera gathering dust across generations, and Guinness on tap, these ale houses are legendary around the world. Fagan’s documentary takes a somewhat disjointed approach at first, focusing on the more anecdotal recollections of pub proprietors of different ages, backgrounds, and approaches across the countryside and in major cities. Some welcome change, others want it desperately, but most want to leave things the same in a last bastion of traditionalism in a country still struggling to find its identity.
But by front loading his film with the fun drinking stories, Fagan turns the second half of his film into a more humanist and personal look at the hearty souls and families that have thrived and endured in one of the world’s oldest professions in a country full of prolific imbibers. It creates a nostalgic sympathy for the bartender, someone who usually has to listen to the problems of others instead of telling their own stories. It’s as relaxing and charming as sitting down in a snug with that elusive after-hours pint slipped to you on the sly by a kindly barkeep.
It never comes together perfectly, but it’s hard not to be forgiving of a film that lovingly spends this much time at the local watering hole. It can’t quite keep its stories straight, but it nails why people have kept coming back to the local watering hole for the past several centuries.