Film in review – “Life’s A Breeze”

breezeA freewheeling Irish family in Dublin, a widowed Grandma who’s pushing 80, Nan (Fionnula Flanagan), adult children who aren’t quite grown up, some grandchildren who are just brats, but one special one, Emma (Kelly Thornton), a quiet teenager who just loves her Grams, and believes what she says, even if the rest of the family is starting to call her senile. And not even behind her back anymore.

Nan is a classic packrat in a big, rambling house where every nook and cranny is filled with a seemingly haphazard collection of junk, memorabilia, knitting supplies, old calendars and all manner of outdated appliances. Nan doesn’t mind; she’s comfortable there. But her well-meaning family decides to enlist Emma to get Nan out of the house for a day so they can all helpfully clean the place up for her. Throw all that old junk out. Declutter. Update. Make it clean and sparkling and bright and cheery and airy and… completely unrecognizable to poor old Nan.

But then Nan lays the bombshell. That old mattress, which they unceremoniously threw out? She’d been saving money in it for years. Almost a million Euros, in fact. At first, they laughed at her. Then, when they realized she was serious, they were stunned. Then, they go on a frantic search through landfills, but somehow word leaks out, and now the whole countryside is digging through landfills, until finally someone finds an old mattress with $600 in it, and everybody assumes ol’ Granny was just mixed up. And her family is now the laughingstock of the neighborhood. Emma, even, is the butt of jokes from her classmates in school.

But Nan isn’t through with her quest for the missing mattress. She enlists Emma to continue searching – just themselves now, no circus of greedy strangers accompanying them. On the way, on the bus and sitting quietly out in the country, they talk about stuff. Emma is fascinated with the idea of the afterlife and asks Nan about it. She isn’t really religious and, interestingly, Heaven is never mentioned. But reincarnation is. And Hell, which Nan says was living with her worthless grown son who’s also greedy and gullible. It was supposed to be caustically funny (and Nan is not above playing the trickster herself), when the whole family deludes him into thinking he has the winning lottery ticket… when in fact they’re all watching the winning number announcement from the week before. They’re not above being mean to each other in the name of a “practical joke.” Nan is even mean to Emma once, when Emma first expresses some doubt about Nan’s memory of exactly what was in the mattress.

Yes, all the familiar family dynamics are present: sibling rivalry, underachieving lovable losers, successful arrogant jerks, exasperation with everyone by turn, and yet a sense of belonging that can’t be bought. Not even with a million Euros.

Do you think the family would be better off with or without the money? Would they think more or less of Granny if they discovered that she was, in fact, hiding her big stash from all of them?

There are some poignant moments here: when Nan tells Emma about the time she was on her honeymoon and felt so in love, and also when Nan tells Emma that she likes the way she’s growing up and is going to miss seeing her in full blossom. It’s like having to leave the party, she says, just when it was getting to be fun. Now there’s an epitaph that many of us pushing-dotage grandparents can understand. Because none of us knows the day or hour, do we? (Matthew 24:36)

Ronald P. Salfen is parish associate at Woodhaven Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.


Click here to read a Presbyterian Outlook interview with Fionnula Flanagan.