Austin Film Festival 2017 Review: DON’T TALK TO IRENE

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

From writer/director Pat Mills comes this joyous, inventive and hysterical teen underdog movie which features a wonderful breakout performance by Michelle McLeod.  There have been several great teen comedies dealing with similar protagonists, but not one quite like this, nor quite as entertaining as McLeod’s Irene.  Mill’s witty and imaginative writing, combined with the film’s enthusiastic and fighting spirit make Don’t Talk To Irene an inspirational tale for not just socially awkward teens, but also senior citizens who have lost the joy and excitement in their lives.

Irene is an awkward, slightly shy and overweight teenager who constantly dreams of following in her mother’s footsteps.  In high school, her mother Lydia (Anastasia Phillips) enjoyed adoration and popularity as a cheerleader and Irene’s goal is to be just like her.  The mother and daughter have a strained relationship because of Lydia’s overprotective nature and Irene’s only other inspiration is acclaimed actress Geena Davis.  After a failed attempt at joining the cheer squad gets her suspended from school, Irene and her classmates Sarah (Aviva Mongillo) and Tesh (Andy Reid) have to spend their suspensions doing community service at the neighboring retirement home.  Determined to achieve her dream as a cheerleader, Irene convinces some of the depressed and bored residents of the home to form a cheer team with her and enter a television talent show.

In addition to the incredible performance by Michelle McLeod, the movie features an outstanding cast, particularly the actors portraying the elderly members of Irene’s team.  These actors include Bruce Gray, Joan Gregson, and Deborah Grover.  The absolutely amazing Geena Davis lends her voice to the film as Irene’s voice of determination, and the actress does a stupendous job.  Her “conversations” with Irene are both hilarious and magnificent.  Don’t Talk to Irene celebrates the joys of living and inspires people of all ages and physical types to pursue these joys.

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