In Poster Boys the gig economy and a ticking clock bring an estranged uncle and nephew closer together as they embark on a roundtrip postering tour of Ireland.
Al Clancy (Trevor O’Connell) is struggling to get by in the fast-paced, high-pressure world of advertising. Al isn’t pitching campaigns to clients or working out ad copy on the third floor of an office building. Instead, he’s on the street as a “brand manager” delivering and photographing posters to petrol stations and corner shops across Ireland.
Al’s work is thankless, the benefits non-existent and the pay barely affords Al a living in Dublin. As Poster Boys opens, Al is under threat of eviction. His only hope is to make an impossible All-Ireland poster run, hanging and snapping photos of posters from Malin Head to Mizen Head.
Complicating this all-or-nothing job is Karl (Ryan Minogue-Lee), Al’s 10-year-old nephew, a last-minute addition foisted on Al by his sister Aoife. Despite protests from Al (“The last time I saw him he pissed all over me”), an older, now toilet-trained Karl rides shotgun on his quest.
The dynamic between uncle and nephew is reminiscent of films where two escaped convicts find themselves handcuffed to one another. In this case though it’s the bonds of family rather than a steel chain that keep them tethered together, even as they test each other’s patience.
There’s a lot of arguing, name-calling and pouting. Thankfully, this aspect of the story doesn’t wear on the film because Al and Karl are about evenly matched, with the younger of the two having the edge in most of their squabbles.
Making his debut alongside O’Connell, Minogue-Lee plays Karl as pushy and straight-talking but not overly so. He is not precocious in the way many child actors appear when speaking the truth to adults. This is a naturalistic performance: Karl sounds like a kid, with Dave Minogue’s script avoiding the 40-year-old child trap that ensnares many screenwriters.
Karl is appropriately distractible, spending a lot of screen time reenacting Fortnite dances, asking open-ended questions or talking at Karl whether he wants to hear it or not. He acts like a real kid and so the film’s emotional high and low points have a subdued quality to them. There is no stage-school showiness here.
Throughout their caper, Karl is like the devil on his uncle’s shoulder pushing him to drop his adult inhibitions and go with instinct. Al, living in a state of arrested development, is amenable to his nephew’s schemes. Even as Al insists that “This is the one weekend I have to try and be an adult”, the feeling is that this statement is a half-hearted suggestion rather than a rule.
In a way, Al is playing at being an adult because it’s what’s expected of him. His job and apartment are meaningful as signifiers of maturity. But throughout the film, people treat Al with indifference or outright hostility. The working world has distanced Al from his family and sense of self-worth.
Karl and Al lift each other up, and their adventures across the country help to refocus Al’s attention on what’s important. At the start of Poster Boys, Al is dysfunctional because he cannot see a different way of living. By the end of the film, Karl has shown him the way to happiness.
The road-trip aspect of the plot and the strict time limit on Karl and Al’s adventure means that Dave Minogue keeps Poster Boys moving at all times. This is Minogue’s first feature, but you can sense the breadth of his experience across other disciplines. He’s previously worked as a producer on numerous short films and served as an assistant director on the elusive Michael Flatley vanity project Blackbird.
Poster Boys is pitched as a dramedy, and sometimes the drama takes us by surprise. A good time will turn into a serious time without much warning at all. Jarringly realistic, or just jarring, it’s hard to say.
The strengths of O’Connell and Minogue-Lee as actors prop up the script when need be. Moreover, the pacing of Poster Boys allows for little time to dwell on what doesn’t work, as we’re always seeing something new.
A confident debut, Poster Boys is sweet-natured and, at times, a little heavy-handed. But its two leads work so well together that it doesn’t really matter what the script has them doing.
Poster Boys is in cinemas from 9 July.