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Monday 10 April 2017

Review: Mrs Brown's fruitcake overdose

Posted in: Movies
By Alexander Lowë - 25th July 2014


I have just watched Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie. What a treat to see a movie before its official release, with a bottle of Irish beer and heavenly Irish chips in decadent Lido cinema!

I have to confess I do occasionally watch Mrs Brown’s Boys sitcom even though it is not my favourite; it still makes me relaxed and cheers me up with its trashy props and trashy lines. It has this true blue comforting food effect, similar to taking cheap and cheerful spicy takeaway market meal with predictable aftertaste and bonus purgative action. You kind of know what you are getting. They say people used to flock to Puhoi pub despite crappy food and rude service because the old grumpy owner was just ridiculously funny. Mrs Brown's swearing caricature character could just have exactly the same effect on the viewers.

Could it be the secret behind Mrs Brown’s Boys’ appeal: it is so bad that it is good? Still, I never expected to find that it was so popular here, apparently watched by over 500,000 New Zealanders. An online petition to bring the show to NZ got more signatures than petition to John Key to stop LGBT discrimination in the realm of NZ. A Facebook group created last year for the same purpose got almost as many likes as the website. In Australia, this year's tour has become the most successful comedy tour in history. In the UK, a Christmas episode of the show was watched by over nine million viewers, beating all other programmes. D'Movie, released last month, became an instant hit in Great Britain and Ireland getting over 12million pounds in sales in just three weeks and, judging by the audience reception in the Lido, is destined for record sales here too.

The screening was not for critics. As actor Rory Cowan, who plays Mrs Brown's gay son Rory said, "critics do not matter". Indeed, this crowd-pleasing sitcom has been continuously trashed by critics and while D'Movie has been leaving audiences in stitches, it was nearly universally claimed by critics to be unfunny, apparently failing to make most of them even smile once. Could critics be assessing too seriously something as light and vulgar as comedy? Or are artistic merits completely irrelevant for the pop art? Probably yes and yes. Regardless of our knowledge that Coca-Cola is bad for your health and that bagged sweets is junk, billions are happily consuming them. And enjoying D'Movie with it. But does majority always get it right?

I remember bits I actually watched in some episodes of the sitcom. It was funny at times and I even felt uplifted with light hearted humour, a family acceptance message and direct appeal to the audience. The movie promised to give much more and I was warmed up with free booze and a more than enthusiastic audience for company. It started fresh and funny at Dublin’s fruit and veg market but quickly turned into a rotten mass of clichés and predictable stereotypes. And when I left the cinema I felt an unpleasant aftertaste.

On the surface, Mrs Brown’s Boys is about acceptance with matriarch embracing her diverse family including her gay son, but it is abundant in stereotypes. Could that be exactly why the show is so popular? That its characters are caricatured, making the majority feeling better about themselves at the expense of laughing at a minority, one at a time: those that are older, uglier, less educated, physically or emotionally handicapped, effeminate and gay. Cartoon-like shallow characters are easily recognised even by the most primitive brains in the audience, giving it childish pleasure of superiority.

One would think that Dame Edna’s time is over but nah, the funniest thing in the comedy is still a man in a dress, still clearly identified as a man. Would it be a coincidence that versions of the show have flourished across Eastern Europe in countries like Russia, Romania and Lithuania? These Orthodox countries embrace comedies featuring men in drag as long as they are straight men like Mr O’Connell mocking femininity but they could not stand gays taking gender blending seriously like Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst.

Would this joking around dresses reveal deep routed prejudices and hidden realities like continuing discrimination of women? Do other movie jokes about migrants in fact expose increasing racism and xenophobia in the EU? Throughout the entire movie everybody treats a poor Indian man as being Jamaican, against his protests. Brendan O’Carroll also takes onthe Chinese community, narrowing his eyes and adopting a ridiculous accent as Mr Wang, karate instructor in school of blind ninjas. And would gays depicted as laughable clowns expose homophobia in the society?


If you are not a fan of gay characters as portrayed in ‘Modern family' and 'Vicious', you better stay away from D’Movie. In the most haunting scene Rony manages to play out the worst of the Bruno character and pack it into ridiculous Borat’s mankini showing off the most of his least appealing body, making a degrading run across the cheering crowd towards, and then cowardly away from, the Channel, abandoning idea of crossing it for fundraising.

Yet it appears to be a great business to adhere to stereotypes and reinforce them. Mrs Brown's boys became a gold mine not only for O’Connor but also for his family and friends, stars of the show. Rory Cowan was once his publicist, struggling to make the ends meet. He is now a well off man, living in a “House that Mrs Browns built” with a mortgage paid by the sitcom’s royalties. While his acting apparently made it impossible for him to meet a guy, he had unexpected luck with marriage proposals from several straight women during the Australian tour.

Does this gay stereotyping show us that we could be both popular and successful by giving up to the crowd’s expectations? And just letting ourselves be laughed at? An Irish critic wrote that D'Movie made him feel ashamed for being Irish. Well, some scenes made me feel ashamed of being gay. And who knows what may be coming up in the sequel, announced to be centred on Rony and his gay hair studio ‘Wash and Blow’.

While D'movie is just a junk mindfood, it underlines a bigger picture, portrayal of LGBT characters in movies. Released this week GLAAD's report found only seven decent well-rounded LGBT characters out of 107 Hollywood films in 2013. The majority of LGBT characters were minor roles or cameos, many outright offensive and defamatory.

According to GLAAD's CEO Sarah Kate Ellis, ‘the lack of substantial LGBT characters in mainstream film, in addition to the outdated humour and stereotypes suggests large Hollywood studios may be doing more harm than good when it comes to worldwide understanding of the LGBT community’. She believes that Hollywood should reflect the true fabric of our society rather than feed into the hatred and prejudice against LGBT people too often seen around the globe, that it should not turn us into jokes or simply edit us out in front of millions of audience members. Well said.

Alexander Lowë - 25th July 2014

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