"Life's a Breeze" is a small film with a considerable amount of charm. Comic and idiosyncratic, it takes a warmhearted view toward its protagonists while still seeing them for exactly who they are.
Set in Dublin and reminiscent of everything from classic Ealing comedies like "Passport to Pimlico" and "The Lavender Hill Mob" to the Roddy Doyle adaptations "The Commitments" and "The Snapper," "Life's a Breeze" remains its own film, and that's due to the spirit of Irish writer-director Lance Daly.
Fondly remembered for the equally small, equally winning 2008 film "Kisses," Daly is a filmmaker of wit, deftness and restraint whose fractured fairy tales don't lack for bite and emotion to go along with their good spirits.
They also don't lack for fine acting, starting in this case with the impressive Fionnula Flanagan, one of Ireland's best and completely in her element as Nan, the Dublin mother of four grown children but at age 79 still a figure of authority to be loved, feared and worried about, not necessarily in that order.
Concerned that Nan is "not quite the full shilling," her grown children assign 13-year-old grandchild Emma (newcomer Kelly Thornton) to look in on her every day, something Emma — who finds Nan "old and weird" — understandably chafes under.
Though three of Nan's four children are on some form of public assistance, only one of them, the feckless but good-hearted Colm (the veteran Pat Shortt), who can turn the search for a misplaced birth certificate into an earth-shaking crisis, still lives at home with his mother.
Overflowing with the detritus of a lifetime (Waldemar Kalinowski did the deft production design), Nan's house is a trial to her children. They arrange for Emma to decoy the old lady out of the place so the four of them can pitch in and do a full house makeover in her absence. (The film's title is taken from the name of a house odor removal product they strategically place on the walls.)
The look on everyone's faces when Nan returns home, from the real pleasure the children radiate to Nan's increasing bewilderment, are classic, and they increase in intensity when everyone gets to the pièce de résistance, her bedroom.
For, in addition to disposing of "22 years of newspapers and 7 million Chinese take-away menus," the children have thrown away Nan's bed frame and mattress and replaced it with "Ikea's finest." Which might have been swell except that the old mattress, Nan soon informs everyone, was stuffed with 50 years of savings, nearly 1 million Euros all told, now very much gone with the wind. Or so Nan insists.
It's an indication of the complex relationship Nan has with her children that they don't know whether to believe her or feel that she's simply "winding them up." And even if she herself believes the mattress story, is her memory reliable enough to be trusted? The children are soon more or less convinced that their mother is telling the truth, which leads to a series of wild-goose-chase-type expeditions spearheaded, much to Nan's irritation, by slacker Colm. "He couldn't find a wife or a job," his mother reasonably asks. "How's he going to find my life savings?"
The searches begin at usual spots like recycling centers and landfills and soon, in a zany twist, come to involve the entire city. The ups and downs they take are the heart of the fun, but despite Nan not having a good word for any of them, the difficulties just might bring this fractious family closer together.
Making all this happen is the fine touch of writer-director Daly, who's filled this film with both delightful small moments (a Strip-O-Gram episode is especially memorable) as well as larger feelings. Daly is a director who goes his own way, and we are all richer for it.
'Life's a Breeze'
MPAA rating: Not rated
Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes