Mister John (2013)

Mister John
Director: Joe Lawlor, Christine Molloy
Writer: Joe Lawlor, Christine Molloy
Cast: Aidan Gillen, Zoe Tay, Molly Rose Lawlor, Michael Thomas, Claire Keelan, Michael Walsh, Ashleigh Judith White
Seen on: 6.10.2022

Just as Gerry (Aidan Gillen) finds out that his wife (Claire Keelan) cheated on him, he also hears that his estranged brother John (Michael Walsh) passed away in Singapore where he lived with his family and ran a bar. Escaping his own problems, Gerry flies to Singapore to take care of his brother’s affairs. Greeted by his sister-in-law Kim (Zoe Tay) and his niece Sarah (Molly Rose Lawlor), Gerry kind of steps into his brother’s life for a while.

Mister John is a slow film that doesn’t escape the colonial tones of ex-pat life in Singapore. It is interesting in parts, but not as a whole.

The film poster showing close-ups of Gerry (Aidan Gillen) and Kim (Zoe Tay) in front of a bar sign.

Lawlor and Molloy made a couple of choices that are not very crowd-pleasing: the slow pace of the story, the sparse dialogue and the muted acting all serve to underscore Gerry’s sense of alienation, but that alienation can easily jump to the audience and how they feel about the film. I was certainly not immune to it, although I understood the intent. To speak plainly, the film became boring at times with its glacial pace.

I thought that the central idea was certainly interesting, the way Gerry tries John’s life on for size, as if figuring out whether it would be a better fit for him than for his own life. It pitches the bourgeois suburban Irish/white life against the exotic existence in Singapore that includes everything that is (apparently) contrary to the former: sex work, alcohol, seedy business, a subservient wife, and even (belief in) spirits.

Gerry (Aidan Gillen) facing off against Lester (Michael Thomas).

The problem is that the film doesn’t find it worth commenting on that all that contrariness is being performed by the white people in the film who traipse through Singapore neo-colonially. Everything here reeks of exoticism and the white gaze, especially because the story reduces everything to Gerry’s choice. That Kim, for example, would want him as a subsitute for John is assumed as a matter of course.

With Zoe Tay’s no nonsense portrayal, Kim is the only one who escapes the general dynamic, at least for a while. She is a shrewd business woman as well as a wife, and it is up to us to decide how much of her deference to Gerry is calculation on her part. But with that particular contrast to her submissiveness, we are just playing into different gendered and racialized stereotypes, so it’s no great change to the rest of the film either.

All of this made Mister John a bit tiring, despite of the fact how well-constructed it was.

Gerry (Aidan Gillen) talking to Kim (Zoe Tay) in John's bar.

Summarizing: didn’t speak to me.

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