‘Breaking Out’ explores the moving, surprising and little-known story of Fergus O’Farrell. At the age of eight, Fergus was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and told he wouldn’t live longer than a decade. He would go on to become the lead singer of the band Interference, with whom he’d produce two albums. Before passing away in 2016 at the age of 48, he’d also collaborate often with the Oscar-winning singer-songwriter Glen Hansard.
The main takeaway from ‘Breaking Out’ is that gorgeous music and compelling story of human resilience. The psychological toil on the mind when the body’s increasing immobility is stifling its potential for creativity, is nothing short of heart-wrenching. As Hansard reflects, the vocals Fergus could produce given his limited mobility were incredibly impressive. Thus the audience is continually awed rather than driven to melancholy by Fergus’s story.
The singer’s family share stories about Fergus’s childhood and how it took them a while to realise what was happening. Fergus’s friends and music contemporaries also speak about him, while his wife Li is particularly sweet and funny – there’s an adorable little cartoon detailing their love story. It’s one of many moments that the doc takes a stylised approach, and not every idea works, such as a rather strange sequence involving Jeremy Irons which awkwardly sticks out. But you can appreciation the innovation and attempts to diverge away from the typical documentary edit.
There’s a joyousness to the story of the rise of Interference on the Irish music scene, and the importance of ‘Once’ in this respect is highlighted too (Interference’s song “Gold” featured not only in the film, but also in the Tony Award-winning stage musical adaptation). There’s some interesting footage from the band’s music videos from the ‘90s. As for Fergus himself, he comes across as earnest and ambitious, as well as open and honest about mistakes he’s made in the past. It’s easy to see why he’s so beloved.
While ‘Breaking Out’ can be a little busy and misdirected, leaning a bit too heavily into its theme of time running out, the doc inevitably proves as charming as its central subject. It is imperfect, but touching and intimate, and we wouldn’t trade it for gold.