Stars: Michael Huisman, Samuel Bottomley, Niamh Algar
By Nicole Ackman
The only thing better than a road trip movie is a road trip movie set in beautiful Ireland. And that’s exactly what “The Last Right”(2021) is, with gorgeous scenery and good performances. It is writer and director Aoife Crehan’s first film and an impressively well-made directorial debut. It feels very Irish at its core, especially in the way that it balances humor with heavy topics like death and relationships.
Tax lawyer Daniel Murphy (Michael Huisman) is going home to Cork, Ireland from Boston for his mother’s funeral. On the airplane, he meets Padraig Murphy (Jim Norton) who is returning home with the body of his estranged brother to bury him in their home country. Padraig has no one else in the world, so despite having just met Daniel, he lists him as his next-of-kin on his airline documents.
Of course, that’s a major hint to the audience that something will come of it and sure enough, Padraig suddenly dies on the airplane. In the middle of trying to reconnect with his now orphaned autistic younger brother Louis (Samuel Bottomley), Daniel receives a call that he needs to deal with the body. Louis is moved by the story of the two brothers and makes a deal with Daniel that he will consider moving to America with him if they can take Padraig’s body to Antrim to be buried with his brother. Joining them on their journey is a young woman named Mary (Niamh Algar), who has some loose ends of her own to tie up along the way.
It’s a sort of crazy set-up, as even the characters themselves acknowledge. Some of the moments feel a bit ridiculous and the love story in it moves at the unrealistic speed of a Hallmark film. The movie may also take on too much, with all of the different relationships it explores. There’s also a big twist, that I genuinely didn’t see coming, that was thankfully used for much more than shock value.
As with all great road trip movies, the best parts of the film come from having the three characters together in the car, allowing for the character and relationship work to take center stage. Daniel is clearly uncomfortable in Ireland and with his younger brother. Huisman manages to make a character that could otherwise come off as a total jerk seem sympathetic thanks largely to his natural charm. (Though the cozy sweaters he wears certainly don’t hurt either.)
Louis’s autism is treated respectfully and doesn’t fall into stereotypes. He has character traits outside of his autism and Bottomley’s performance, and in particular his chemistry with Huisman, is one of the highlights of the film. Algar is also great as Mary, making what could have been a bland love interest character fun and engaging.
The film has a handful of moments of nice camera work, like the filming of a drinking scene that makes the audience feel like they’re as tipsy as the characters. There are also some genuinely great moments of humor sprinkled throughout the film, especially if you can appreciate this very Irish treatment of death as a topic.
The serious topics of the film are treated with both levity and humor, a balance that is always difficult to find. It sets it apart from your normal family drama and keeps the story from feeling overly melodramatic. While “The Last Right” isn’t a perfect film, it’s worth watching for the good performances and the lovely shots of the Irish countryside and it marks a very promising debut from Crehan.