Following the sudden death of her husband two years ago, Róise (Bríd Ní Neachtain) finds herself drawn to a stray dog near her house. Eventually, she comes to believe that the dog is in fact the reincarnation of her husband, to the dismay of her son (Cillian Ó Gairbhí) and the bemusement of the local community...
Grief and isolation are frequent topics in Irish cinema, and very often is the case that they're taken on with intensity and deliberateness that can sometimes be quite off-putting. Sure, they're heavy topics and warrant serious examination and interpretation, but a light touch is just as effective when deployed correctly. 'Róise & Frank' is a perfect example of this. It's dealing with all of these themes, but approaching them from a much more charming and whimsical perspective.
The premise of the movie is bracingly simple, and as such, there's very little left for the audience to interrogate or infer from it. What's more, whether or not it's actually real - if the husband has reincarnated as a dog - is kind of besides the point. What matters is the real effect it has on the characters. Róise blooms and begins to resume her social life, a local boy finds talent in hurling from playing with the dog, and the cosy village where the story is set takes Róise and the concept of canine rebirth at face value. There is some comedy found when Róise's sceptical son tries to bring the dog to a vet, only to chicken out when he responds to his name.
Bríd Ní Neachtain skilfully underplays the role, never allowing the inherent oddness of it all to override the clear range of emotions her character's going through. Cillian Ó Gairbhi is a good foil, taking up the comedy when needed, but also carefully teasing out the nuanced feelings of the story - namely, is his mother in a state of mental distress, or is it actually helping? The scenes with his on-screen wife and daughter just add to the air and feel of tenderness and good-natured humour that surrounds 'Róise and Frank', something that directors Rachael Moriarty and Peter Murphy have clearly spent careful attention on. As a result of all this, it's desperately hard to be hard on this movie as its limitations just add to the well-meaning simplicity of it all.
Watching 'Róise and Frank', you'd be forgiven for wondering why there hasn't been a big Hollywood version of the same story previously. Yet, when you sit and think about it, it's probably because all of the eccentricities and idiosyncrasies would be sucked out of it in favour of something bland and kind of tasteless. Here, however, setting in Waterford with a loveable pooch and a game cast and a script in our native language, it takes on a warm and familiar charm that would be easily lost in translation.
It might be slight and scruffy, but 'Róise & Frank' has a fuzzy heart of gold.