To the canon of quirky indie films about teenage boys coming of age we can add “Turning Green,” a smartly written, beautifully shot comedy by first-time writer/directors Michael Aimette and John G. Hofmann. It’s no “Tadpole” or “Igby Goes Down,” but it does have a protagonist who makes a living selling pornography to unsullied Irish villagers. So it has that going for it.
Set in 1979 in a rural Irish town, it is the story of James (Donal Gallery), an American-born lad who was sent, after his parents’ death, to their native Ireland to live with his three nosy, old-biddy aunts. He’s 16 now, and has been here for five years. His little brother Pete (Killian Morgan), a lisper with a wide vocabulary of S-free synonyms for common words, barely remembers the U.S. anymore but is loyal to James’ constantly expressed desire to get the hell out of Ireland.
James spends a lot of time alone in the bathroom, doing what most bored 16-year-old boys do; he’s in there so often, for such long durations, that his aunts believe he is constipated. His stools are the frequent subject of dinner conversations. Man, does he ever want to get out of Ireland.
He has a couple of friends. One is Tom (Colm Meaney), a local fisherman who maintains an unemotional, distinctly Irish relationship with the lad, with gruff, vulgar expressions taking the place of professions of admiration. James knows how to read between the lines, though, and he’s glad to have Tom for a father figure.
He also associates with Bill the Bookie (Alessandro Nivola), a local thug for whom James does collections. If anyone doesn’t pay up, Bill has his muscle, Bill the Breaker (Timothy Hutton), deal with it. James is strictly a cash-transporter.
On a trip to London to see about curing that constipation, James discovers nudie magazines, something he’d never seen before in Ireland. Knowing a good opportunity when he sees one, he buys them in bulk and begins selling them on the sly to the local boys, and eventually to their dads, too. He squirrels the money away to save up for a trip to the States — but it’s only a matter of time before Bill the Bookie notices the porn sales and wonder who’s started a new racket in his town.
That leads to the movie’s one significant flaw, actually: It becomes too much of a gangster drama in the end, with life-or-death situations that are awkwardly out of place in the otherwise sweet, cynical comedy.
New-comer Donal Gallery is fantastically likable as James. Wherever this kid came from, he has a future ahead of him if he plays his cards right. The accent is perfect — Irish, but not too Irish, since the boy lived for 11 years in America — and his attitude as a displaced, sullen teen is instantly recognizable.
And funny, too. James’ narrations give us the skinny on his aunts and the townspeople, and since we are not as naive as he, we come to appreciate Ireland’s charms — including its gorgeous scenery, magnificently photographed by cinematographer Tim Fleming — far sooner than he does. Aimette and Hofmann’s screenplay, passed over during the first season of “Project Greenlight” for the good-but-not-this-good “Stolen Summer,” strikes a tone that deftly mixes comedy, wistfulness and bawdiness. The finished product is something to be proud of.
B (1 hr., 26 min.; )