The Quiet Girl: A Sensitive Pastoral Drama

Photo: Super Ltd.

Colm Bairead’s adaptation of Claire Keegan’s book Foster, The Quiet Girl has earned itself a reputation as one of the sleeper hits of last year, currently standing with 99% on Rotten Tomatoes and the record of the highest grossing Irish language film ever (after breaking the modest barrier of 600,000 Euros) and is now the first Irish-language film nominated for an Academy Award (in Best International Feature, a category no other Irish-language film had ever been as much as shortlisted for before). I saw few films receive more enthusiastic endorsements this year with many hailing this simple, gentle, and low-key family drama as one of the best films of 2022.

I don’t like to think this influenced my reaction to it at all unduly or caused me to ask too much of it: The Quiet Girl is good, great even. It’s a sensitive, understated and gentle story of a neglected young girl growing up in deprivation, who learns to hope for a better life for herself when she spends the summer in the country with her distant relations. It’s just that that’s about it. It’s one of the most predictable films I’ve seen all year, peddling one clichéd story beat and plot development after another and even the visual language it uses to tell its story feels pedestrian and overfamiliar. There’s nothing surprising or striking about it, nothing that pierces the veil. We know this story, we know how it’ll be told and, for myself at least, we don’t get that invested as a result. And before I’m done being overly negative, am I the only one who found this a bit…classist?

Cait’s immediate family are poor. The six of them (with another on the way) live in one small house. Her neglectful, heavy-drinking Dad sees her only as a burden and with another baby coming soon, decides to send her away for the summer to live with her mother’s well-to-do cousins, who live in a huge house, are independently wealthy enough to tend their small farm by themselves, participate in helping out their neighbors and dote on their new arrival. Of course young Cait has a happier time of it there! It recalls that line from Parasite about how it’s easy to be nice when you’re rich. I get that this wasn’t the film for examining the social inequality that leads to unhappy families like hers, but from my perspective, this felt like such an obviously unexplored dimension to a story that it ends up (accidentally I hope) conflating wealth with moral superiority.

That’s a lot of complaining and I don’t wish to be too hard on what I believe is a sincere film with its sentimental heart in the right place. For what aspects to it I do take issue with, there’s much else to praise in The Quiet Girl. Though predictable, the story is told with grace, tact and subtlety. The performances are solid from everyone and it doesn’t overdo anything or strain for comic relief or maudlin tugs at the heartstrings. What pathos it comes by it earns honestly. It portrays a credible scenario in a convincing manner and neither the bleak opening nor the idyllic middle are cheap or exaggerated.

I say nothing is particularly striking about The Quiet Girl and I stand by that, because what people love about this film is what it doesn’t do. The timeless simplicity of its story and the delicacy with which it is told. If it enraptured you and overwhelmed you with its open-hearted tenderness, I don’t blame you. I’m honestly surprised I wasn’t similarly affected. Maybe I’ve seen too many films like this and have reached a stage in my film-watching where I crave the novel, the innovative and the exciting. I hope there’s still a place in my heart for films like this and my disinterest in this one is due to the specifics of it being so middle of the road and not excessive cynicism on my part. Maybe a second viewing will endear me more one day, but for now, I’ll sit on the sidelines and let others champion this film with the fealty I just can’t muster for it.

Still, whatever my feelings on The Quiet Girl, I am not blind to its success story and it’s a great thing to see. If this kicks off a new era of international relevancy for the Irish film industry, I wouldn’t care if this were the worst movie I’d ever seen. I was just left a little cold by The Quiet Girl, but I’m well aware how alone I am in that and I still recommend it. It’s a very sweet little film and it’s great to see it gaining such traction. I wouldn’t even be sorry to see it pull an upset and take that Oscar away from All Quiet On the Western Front either, but given the latter’s overperformance at BAFTA, that seems unlikely.

For examples of recent Irish family dramas that did get under my skin though, seek out Herself and Wildfire, a magnificent pair of films I saw at the 2020 London Film Festival, fell in love with, and have hardly heard anyone speak a word about since.

Written by Hal Kitchen

A graduate of the University of Kent, Reviews Editor Hal Kitchen joined Film Obsessive as a freelance writer in May 2020 following their postgraduate studies in Film with a specialization in Gender Theory and Studies. In November 2020 Hal assumed their role as Reviews Editor. Since then, Hal has written extensively for the site, writing analytical and critical pieces on film, and has represented the site at international film festivals including The London Film Festival and Panic Fest.

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