Film Review: ‘Run & Jump’

The feature debut from Academy Award nominee Steph Green (New Boy), and starring Will Forte and Maxine Peake, Run & Jump (2013) is a humorous and often charming attempt to play on the lighter side of post-stroke care. Though not without its overly melodramatic moments, and relying a little too heavily on an in-out mockumentary aesthetic for its own good, Green’s first full-length outing ultimately disarms thanks to two affable lead leads and a highly commendable “always look on the bright side of life” outlook. Peake is often overlooked outside of the sphere of television, but here proves herself a solid emotional anchor for Forte’s nervy American stroke specialist to bounce off (though never literally).

Irish housewife Vanetia’s (Peake) life is changed forever when here husband Conor (Edward MacLiam) is struck by a debilitating stroke. Struggling to balance the daily care of Conor with her role as a mother, she receives some unlikely assistance in the form of American doctor Ted Fielding (Forte), who’s interested in documenting the family’s recovery process. Initially weary of the camera-wielding Ted’s interest in her predicament, Vanetia’s guard is gradually lowered as the two get to know one another better. Unlike the parade of sympathisers and well-wishers our protagonist must endure on a daily basis, Ted offers comfort rather than condolence. As Ted and Vanetia grow ever closer, the family unit is expanded to incorporate the new addition to this middle-class Irish household in flux.

Forte, an international star thanks to Saturday Night Live and his turn in Alexander Payne’s Oscar-nominated Nebraska (2013), has obviously been pushed as Run & Jump’s main draw following its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, but it’s Peake who offers the most grounded and satisfying performance. Rushed off her feet but always with a smile for those she holds dearest, even when a visibly frustrated Conor is at his most volatile, Vanetia is both a loving wife and an admirable mother. Yet she’s also an individual, able to operate outside of these societal pigeonholes and emerge, every so often, as a vibrant fun-lover. She turns on the outraged matriarch act when Ted is caught smuggling cannabis into the family home, only to break the illusion and burst into laughter moments later. She’s clearly a woman under pressure, but it’s to the credit of Green and co-writer Ailbhe Keogan that the film steers clear of wallowing in pity.

There are a number of missteps, as is to be expected from a director of Green’s relative inexperience. The increasingly animal-fixated Conor (we’re told by Ted that this is a common coping mechanism) must not only endure his newfound post-stroke state but also the death of an immediate family member, whilst Vanetia’s son is having trouble with bullies at school. Such further complications feel unnecessary and do do detract from what is an otherwise convincing indie about the ties that bond and the limits to which they can be stretched by external and internal forces. Forte’s star is already well on the rise, but for Peake this is another opportunity successfully taken. Though unlikely to make much of an impact at the UK box office, Run & Jump could prove a useful calling card for its female lead and patently talented orchestrator.

Daniel Green