‘Once’ may have revolutionised the modern-day musical, but the Glenn Hansard/Markéta Irglová concert movie, ‘The Swell Season’ is about as bog-standard a documentary as they come, says Simon Mernagh.
In the vein of all classic concert movies, The Swell Season features swathes of rabid post-gig crowds, begging for signatures and fawning over Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, as if a chorus of angels had heralded their heavenly descent. However, it’s exactly these dedicated fans at which this movie is squarely aimed. While everybody should find the couple’s personal troubles and accompanying concert footage interesting, there is little else here to entertain the non-devotees.
The real-life events surrounding Once are actually far more ‘Hollywood’ than anything in the movie – an independent Irish film, clocking in at a modest 86 minutes, battling through the festival circuit and winding up winning the 2007 Academy Award for Best Original Song with its devastating ‘Falling Slowly’. It’s a story that would make even the most hardened studio executive blush.
The Swell Season mirrors the name given to Hansard and Irglová’s touring ensemble, and follows their vastly successful American pilgrimage in the wake of their Oscar success. They swiftly become a new-age rock and roll couple and, although far less arduous than the likes of Nicks and Buckingham, relations inevitably slide further south, in tandem with the literal direction of the tour itself. The couple eventually called it quits, but luckily for us, this didn’t hinder their performances.
There’s an aura of melancholy to The Swell Season, and it’s not all down to the emotion-laden indie-folk performed by the beloved duo. Much of the heartstring-tugging comes in the guise of Hansard’s strained relationship with his Dad. While his frankly adorable mother absolutely oozes pride for her busker-turned-superstar son, her spouse is a tad less involved and, unfortunately, less sober. These familial scenes are singularly devastating in their unabridged honesty
Unfortunately, these scenes are relatively few and far between, and The Swell Season ultimately does little more than what’s simply expected of it. The devolution of Hansard and Irglová’s romantic relationship is handled very matter-of-factly, and feels somewhat flimsy when compared to Hansard’s family affair. Snippets of live performances and backstage banter undoubtedly liven proceedings, but overall The Swell Season lacks the emotional heft that graced the wonderful Once.
Once may have revolutionised the modern-day musical, but The Swell Season is about as bog-standard a documentary as they come. One for the die-hard Hansardians.
The Swell Season opens in selected cinemas on Friday, December 6
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