In the run-up to Valentine’s Day, there will be plenty of schmaltzy slogans bandied about on cards, signs, adverts, and coming from the mouths of spouses and significant others around the world as the pressure to say those three magic words – “I love you,” not “I forgot, sorry” – is ramped up for the annual celebration of all things romance. Valentine’s Day films, too, will almost surely be as packed with saccharine declarations as Valentine’s Day chocolates are with harmful chemicals, blurting Hallmark love about the place until everyone gets slightly annoyed.
There is absolutely no danger of that happening in writer/director Graham Jones’ fourth film, a “romantic adventure” built around the unique, intriguing concept of a relationship without speaking. From the very start almost to the very end of the 70-odd minute runtime, the titular random pairing, Senan and Dara (Joseph Lydon and Sarah Jane Murphy) say not one word to each other; their entire narrative arc is given to the audience through facial expressions, minute actions and body language.
It’s a difficult gimmick to pull off, especially in an era where snark and wit are the currency of modern TV and film, and even The Artist had title cards and a dancing dog to bolster its storytelling arsenal. Jones doesn’t exactly do his idea any favours, not only blatantly ignoring even these dramatic crutches, but further stacking the deck against himself by making his leads the only two characters in the entire film and betting its success and/or failure entirely on them.
We’re dropped into the premise right away, and the silence of the opening act jars from the off. There’s no introductions. No exposition about the leads’ loneliness. No sassy supporting character vowing to get their single friend’s groove back. There’s an elderly lady dancing, and a lengthy montage of Dara and Senan interacting with various beauty spots around Galway before their silent meet-cute evolves into a sometimes tender, sometimes rocky, always odd relationship. It’s clear we’re not in rom-com Kansas anymore.
Everything is left to the audience to figure out as the couple set off on their romantic journey, and the meaning of the things they do is not readily available. Why is Dara not holding Senan’s hand? What’s in the box she gives him midway through the film? When do they sleep? How do they earn a living? And why is Senan eating the pieces from a game of Travel Battleship?
It’s tough trying to keep up with all the tiny actions and expressions, and taking your eyes off the screen for a moment could mean missing something important. That is, until it becomes clear that nothing really important actually happens.
Here is The Randomers’ biggest drawback. The idea is neat, and builds toward an equally neat punchline, but without anything else to back up the central relationship, no obvious goal or conflict, Jones quickly runs out of ways to drive the movie on, something symbolised most obviously in the scene where Senan and Dara’s holiday is thwarted by their car not starting.
He tries to counteract this by throwing things like eating the Battleship pieces, a missing children subplot that fails to fire, hints at Senan suffering some kind of illness, and an impromptu bout of coitus that leads to a visually striking but meaningless dream sequence at the script until it seems like the film will crumble under the weight of its own quirk.
There is no escaping the fact that much of the proceedings consist of the couple walking or taking the bus to nice places to look at each other in languorous, barely-changing shots.
Or so it seems at first.
There comes a point in the film, around half an hour in, where you will begin to notice things. Not about the relationship – Lydon and Murphy do well enough, giving a solid visual study in what we say to each other between words – but about the setting, about the ambience, and about the world these two live in.
Landscapes are lovingly shot in spite of the miniscule budget, and The Randomers is abundant with all the natural beauty the Irish countryside and architecture has to offer. The Galway and Mayo locations almost threaten to steal the film, a funny vignette at the Quiet Man Bridge in particular raising a welcome smile among the frowns of confusion that come from following the tale. But, ironically, it’s the sound that saves this movie from being hamstrung by its own premise.
Stripped of dialogue, incidental noise is amped up times a million. Every click of a door, every caw of a crow, every passing ambulance becomes a vital, sometimes visceral thing, engaging to the point where John Wright’s score and the collection of songs from local musicians becomes an intrusion at times. The feel the sound design brings with the locations and camerawork makes every scene palpable and real, hyper-real even. When Dara suddenly starts to sing 45 minutes in, its positively transfixing.
What this element of the production does for the film cannot be discounted. It draws you in, takes you closer to the characters feelings than the lingering camera angles ever could, compels you to keep watching, gradually revealing that no, nothing important is happening – except for the real life all around us.
By the time the aforementioned punchline comes (after a mildly disturbing final ten minutes) we’ve been brought along on the journey with Senan and Dara, for good or ill, and how we feel about that, like the meaning of the couples’ actions, is left completely up to us to figure out.
And then it cuts to a man playing a banjo barefoot by a river for exactly no reason at all.
This film, like most relationships, is messy, unfocused, and often frustrating, but, like most relationships, there are good things to be found in that mess, and the concept alone helps it stand out from the glut of money-grubbing sugar-fests that will swarm over our screens this Valentine’s.
[easyreview cat1title=”The Arcade Verdict” cat1detail=”Almost too odd for its own good, but a decent alternative to typical Valentine’s Day fare.” cat1rating=”7″]