Piece on Earth.
A gently charming comedy, An Everlasting Piece touches upon dramatic territory amid its amusingly improbable story of Northern Ireland toupee salesmen. DreamWorks brings it to disc with a solid technical presentation, though a bit light in the extras department.
Facts of the Case
As barbers at the local mental institution, Colm (Barry McEvoy) and George (Brian F. O'Byrne) sense a tremendous business opportunity when they run across the Scalper (Billy Connolly), a notorious inmate. Once Northern Ireland's only toupee salesman, the Scalper's customer list is a gold mine just waiting to be exploited. With visions of a hairpiece monopoly—Colm selling to the Catholics, and George to the Protestants—a future of leisure for the "Men of Piece" seems assured.
However, Colm and George learn that their monopoly has competition from two dorky guys from "Toupee or Not Toupee." The fine folks at "Wigs of Wimbledon," who supply both firms, decide that this cannot stand, and propose that whichever company sells the most wigs will win the right to be Northern Ireland's sole wig proprietors. Our hair heroes have enthusiasm and determination, but lack sales finesse and must contend with such varied hazards as cow manure, toupee-chewing dogs, hard-boiled policemen, and balding IRA terrorists. Thanks to the brilliant insights of Colm's girlfriend, Bronagh (Anna Friel), they have a fighting chance to win their future. Will they, or won't they?
Humor is a wonderful tool. Name a topic, an event, a person—no matter how horrible, how bereft of human decency, someone, somewhere, is going to find the comedic possibilities. Holocaust humor has spawned a few films, such as Jakob the Liar, and Life is Beautiful, or a more recent entry like Train of Life or Divided We Fall. Similarly, only weeks ago Mel Brooks cleaned up at the Tony Awards for his stage presentation of "The Producers," which is centered around a play entitled "Springtime for Hitler." Even the ordinary despair of cruel economic reality can yield comedic dividends, as in The Full Monty. Used as a means of coping with horror of many kinds, humor can also be wielded as a devastating weapon against the absurdity and folly of evildoers.
So with that in mind, writer/actor Barry McEvoy put pen to paper and crafted the script for An Everlasting Piece, looking for humor and humanity amidst the savagely bitter divisions and bloody terrorism of Northern Ireland of the 1980s. Though the plot may strike some as a purely cinematic creation, the foundation of An Everlasting Piece is found in the stories of McEvoy's father, who at one time did have the odd employment of selling wigs throughout Northern Ireland. Wisely, McEvoy uses the sectarian conflict as a backdrop, but does not dwell on the causes or politics therein, but only on the day-to-day, mundane difficulties that it causes. Consider the choice humor of a balding company of hunted IRA bombers and gunmen who approach our toupee heroes, wanting to buy 30 assorted wigs to throw the police off the scent. Rather a bit of a pickle for our Catholic/Protestant partnership, as it is when George learns that some of the hair in said wigs is collected from Catholic nuns! Oh, the dilemmas! I smiled throughout An Everlasting Piece, snorting and guffawing at various intervals.
With the exception of Billy Connolly, the well-known Scottish comic, audiences on this side of the Atlantic are unlikely to know any of the actors. Even someone such as I, whose exposure to English films and TV shows is far above average, will not see hardly a familiar face, though I did recognize Anna Friel from her appearance in the Cadfael mystery series (in the episode "A Morbid Taste for Bones"). My only acting related complaint is that Billy Connolly, a comic with a sharp-tongued talent, is wasted as the Scalper. He has only brief minutes of screen time, never getting much of a chance to get into a good, entertaining rant going. On the other hand, Barry McEvoy and Brian F. O'Byrne, ably supported by the lovely, perceptive Anna Friel, are dead-on as peaceable every-day-Joes who find lasting friendship, against the odds, in the strangest of business opportunities. Stretching both comedic and dramatic muscles, this cast in general hits all the right notes, never veering into maudlin or farcical pitfalls.
The anamorphic video transfer is first-rate, particularly for such a niche sort of film. The worst I could see was a grainy sort of noise in a few of the night scenes and much softer, lighter noise once or twice in brighter daytime shots. Otherwise, the picture was pleasingly clean and crisp, free of digital artifacts, with well-saturated hues and solid blacks.
The audio track is surprising primarily for the option of a DTS 5.1 track in addition to the relatively standard Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 mixes. While An Everlasting Piece is not going to be the sort of thriller or action film to show off the true abilities of any 5.1 mix, I did appreciate the range of audio options DreamWorks has given us here. Some weather effects and ambient fill come though the rear surrounds, but that's about it. As you might expect, this is a front-soundstage, dialogue-intensive film, but with that proviso, it is well done. The odd mixture of Celtic and 1980s music comes nicely out of the mains, with properly mixed dialogue from the center channel. I would say clearly understood dialogue, but given the accents, you may need the subtitles to follow it.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I think my fate as a DVD critic is to get a commentary track (or, even worse, multiple commentary tracks) on films I loathe, where the interesting insights run out in the first few minutes (and the rest is akin to torture), and not get a commentary track on films like An Everlasting Piece. After watching the film, I was disappointed not to learn more about writer/actor Barry McEvoy and his father, whose own stories of toupee selling in Northern Ireland formed the basis for the script, or to get the input of director Barry Levinson, as to how he came into this cross-Atlantic project, and about the usual creative and production decisions common to any movie. Even an interview featurette would have been nice, but instead DreamWorks requires us to be content with only limited extra content. A few paragraphs of production notes, brief bios and filmographies for a commendably long list of cast and crew, and the quite odd theatrical trailer are all that we get. A pity.
As much as I liked An Everlasting Piece, the final act of the film never measures up to the promise of the comedic build-up. Rather than have the pair struggle into the solution, or even just have the random benefit of fate, the use of Bronagh as an out of the blue miracle worker came off as too much of a cheat. I do respect that An Everlasting Piece, once it has used the cheat, does resist the temptation to make the ending too sugar-laden or supremely tidy.
Poking some good-natured fun at the foibles of men just trying to make a living in the midst of the sectarian insanity of Northern Ireland, An Everlasting Piece is a funny, occasionally serious, sometimes touching, film, and one I strongly recommend for viewing by all audiences (some language and a bare bottom are the only reasons for its R rating). With a good technical presentation from DreamWorks, a purchase ($26.99 list) would contribute a fine peace, err, piece to your film library.
All parties acquitted with the thanks of the Court, although just a smidgen more extra content even on smaller DreamWorks films would be appreciated.
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