Synopsis: To avenge her mother’s death, Pixie masterminds a heist but must flee across Ireland from gangsters, take on the patriarchy, and choose her own destiny.
Stars: Olivia Cooke, Ben Hardy, Daryl McCormack, Colm Meaney, Alec Baldwin, Dylan Moran, Rory Fleck Byrne, Fra Fee, Pat Shortt, Frankie McCafferty
Director: Barnaby Thompson
Running Length: 93 minutes
TMMM Score: (5.5/10)
Review: There are times when you can think of movies like food. Some are hearty main courses that fill your belly with their ambition and dogged charm like 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark while a comfort meal of a film such as Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion will always be one you know you can return to time and time again. Singin’ in the Rain is like a delectable desert that is almost at times too perfect to get to the bottom of and Tootsie is a fizzy refreshment that seems to fit whatever table you find yourself at. Some films are more like appetizers than anything else, quickly consumed and enjoyed but no match for the more savory dishes that are yet to come.
The Irish crime comedy Pixie is a quirky little amuse-bouche that you won’t turn your nose up at but won’t come back for seconds on, either. It packs a nice little punch and while it has a number of pleasingly salty double crosses and tart one-liners, the plot feels a tad crunchy. Promising to be more of a raucous romp than it winds up being, there’s still a lot to like about director Barnaby Thompson’s cheeky film based on a screenplay written by his son, Preston. While it plays a great deal like a TarantinO’Shea production that allows it to start off on the right foot, Pixie doesn’t have quite the stamina to maintain an overall tone to be as bold in its choices or twists. So it can’t hope to leave an impression that lasts, despite a solid cast, some lovely location shooting, and inventive work by cameraman John de Borman (Quartet) throughout.
In a small church not too far outside Belfast, Ireland, two masked men interrupt a group of priests that turn out to be less holy men and more holy rollers armed with shotguns to protect a sizable suitcase full of drugs. The robbery goes right…until it goes wrong for reasons of a more personal nature. You see, the men were acting on the advice of Pixie O’Brien (Olivia Cooke, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), a sneaky little thing that hopes to bypass her gangster stepdad (Colm Meaney, Tolkien) and violently oafish stepbrother (Turlough Convery, Saint Maud) and use the drugs to pay for her passage to America. Both men were involved with Pixie and had a different understanding of who was the more important one to her. It doesn’t end well.
By happy (and highly convoluted) coincidence, Pixie’s classmates Frank (Ben Hardy, Bohemian Rhapsody) and Harland (Daryl McCormack) come into possession of the stolen drugs Pixie was hoping to snag for herself. After getting wind that her original fellas mucked it up and the drugs are in play somewhere else, it doesn’t take her long to find out who they might have been transferred to. When she finds them, she tells the men where the drugs came from and paints a vivid picture of what happens to those who steal from the crime families in their town. Fearing for their lives but mostly falling under her charms, both men agree to travel across the country with their unpredictable new friend who has vowed to help them sell the drugs and attempt to salvage their reputation back home. However, Pixie hasn’t counted on several factions getting wind of the theft (including a smug Alec Baldwin, Aloha) and when they all start to converge on the same village, she’ll have to think fast if she wants to get out alive and consider if she trusts her new mates enough to bring them along with her.
While I appreciated that Barnaby Thompson keeps the film moving at a healthy clip, it can’t quite hide the obvious shortcomings in the script from his son. The whole set-up at the heart of Pixie has been done before and feels recycled from a draft of an earlier film. In fact, I wouldn’t have been surprised in the least to learn this was a script that had been bouncing around for more than a decade before it got made. The filmmakers should have just set Pixie in the early 1990s because it has a sensibility and gait that doesn’t remotely resemble the world we live in now. The violence is bloody (yet highly digitized) and the language chirped through with such rapidity, everyone sounds like they are being kept from using the bathroom until the scene is in the can (pardon the pun).
Why the film has the energy it does, and what makes it fall on the slightly recommended side are the performances from our lead trio of young stars. Cooke, Hardy, and McCormack make for a fine triumvirate of players and work well off of another either as a group or one-on-one. Cooke continues to change things up with each successive film she makes. The sprite character with a fatal edge in Pixie is light years away from the punk rock singer that turns her life around in 2020’s Sound of Metal. I wish the material had risen up to meet her instead of her having to lean down to match its height but, no matter, she elevates the screenplay immeasurably with her natural charm.
What becomes pretty clear in the final third of Pixie is that the script only was thinking about how to get to a certain point (an eyebrow raising shootout between mobsters disguised as priests and nuns) and then it doesn’t have much more up its sleeve. Once it assembles all the players where it imagined them to be it doesn’t quite know what to do with them or how to get at a resolution that falls into step with the askew tune the rest of the film had been singing up until that point. This is why Tarantino, love him or hate him, remains an ace at the three-act structure. He’s always thinking about that end goal and when the movie is over you can look back and see how well appointed it was in service to all the plot details throughout. Pixie wants to have those same attributes but isn’t sophisticated enough to play on that same level.
All that being said, there’s far worse ways to spend an hour and a half (Barnaby Thompson produced Fisherman’s Friends last year and that was dreck compared to this) and Pixie at least has some pep in its step thanks to Cooke so you’re never apt to be bored for long. It may not entirely steal your heart, but you won’t feel robbed of your time once you’ve tooled around the countryside with Pixie.