A thoroughly dull if not totally unpleasant work of nicecore cinema, The Quiet Girl is the case of a film being easy to dismiss but hard to hate. Are the intentions “good”? If hedging your bets around such a self-congratulatory gentle tone and story is, then yes. Yet it’s hard to deny how the story might touch anyone who’s moving past the pains of a difficult childhood with emotionally distant parents.

The titular quiet girl, Cait (Catherline Clinch), is a sullen outcast at school and dually ignored by her parents at home. Her mom and dad have a number of other children to attend to, not to mention a pregnancy promising yet another wee Irish lad in the cramped house. The adult characters outside Cait are strategically shot at a distance, other than a glance at the nape of her mother’s neck while she argues with her father in the middle of a car ride. A child’s POV is at least briefly rendered well before the rest of the uninspiring movie takes place. Otherwise it reeks of someone who’s seen enough contemporary art films to know the “correct” aesthetics (ah yes, the academy aspect ratio again) but no imagination to transcend simple good taste into something more emotionally resonant. Childhood depression, a topic sensitively depicted by directors like Abbas Kiarostami and M. Night Shyamalan, is a rather under-explored subject, and deserving of more. 

The chance for a different, happier life comes when Cait’s parents decide to ship her off to stay at her mother’s cousin’s large home for the summer. There’s some interesting cultural specificity in the picture switching between English and Irish––an additional sense of traveling between two worlds for the lead. Yet ultimately one realizes the narrative is going to proceed like something of a fairytale, or rather just a middling ’90s kids movie (say Matilda) made with self-conscious artiness. The new mother figure, Eibhilin (Carrie Crowley), instantly takes to her, and one can feel the weight of her gaze at the young girl, even as the husband (Andrew Bennett) is too busy watching golf on television in a kind of fugue state, which offsets the new love a little.

The point to which the film dedicates so much time to the new mother figure’s kindness means a kind of tension almost arises. One may think it’ll (slowly) inch towards a kind of Michael Haneke-like turn to cruelty––say some murderous plot––as repeated shots of Eibhilin brushing her hair take on an almost sinister dimension. Yet only comes the revelation that she’s projecting the grief of her young dead son onto Cait. And perhaps there’s something interesting in how heavy the weight of what is expected in return when loved so much is, but the film darts away from anything actually too emotionally difficult.

The Quiet Girl‘s tone and form is too locked-in, never surprising. One almost wants a little more overt sentimentality to puncture the delicacy, even if a syrupy final montage seems to deliver on this, unfortunately, too little too late.

The Quiet Girl opens on February 24.

Grade: C

No more articles