Writer-director David Keith’s Love in Kilnerry is a romantic comedy set in an aging small town on the coast. The young folks there grow up and leave to seek their fortunes in the wider world. All the while, the old-timers, who have been set in their ways for decades, stay. When the Environmental Protection Agency makes a change to the town’s water supply to clean up a chemical plant nearby, the townsfolk are informed that the additive used is completely harmless.
However, it has one powerful side effect: it has been shown to dramatically increase sex drive in test animals. This element functions as a gender-neutral viagra at a municipal level for a sleepy fishing village. The town sheriff, Gary O’Reilly (Daniel Keith), is a conservative young man bent on maintaining order and decency who becomes increasingly frustrated with the town as sexy mayhem and hilarity ensue.
The broad comedy of Love in Kilnerry evolves into a complex emotional foundation as years of isolation, loneliness, and resentment bubble up and explode into the streets. Character studies emerge from this volcanic emotional mix. Some grudges are decades old. The priest feels more comfortable as a nudist. Unrequited love is confessed. In the middle of it all, the sheriff tries to hold the center. He refuses to drink the water from the town supply and believes himself immune to the spell gripping the citizens. Gary’s rage and grief drive him to push back at the townsfolk, expressing themselves amorously or colorfully in any way. He is unhappy when his father begins dating again. Of course, he has his own secret love, shopkeeper Nessa Ward (Kathy Searle).
“…a gender-neutral viagra at a municipal level for a sleepy fishing village.”
The filmmaker seems to struggle with the setting. The film began as a play written by Keith that takes place in the fictional town of Kilnerry in County Donegal, Ireland. The shooting location of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, certainly looks like a coastal town in Ireland. The characters have mostly Irish names. To bolster that notion, a couple of the characters have Irish accents, but most of them don’t, and there’s a lot of talk of the Environmental Protection Agency, a U.S. agency. New England is often thought of as “West Ireland,” so it’s not such a stretch.
If the film had actually been set in and about Ireland, there would have been a much deeper culture shock element, more along the lines of Waking Ned Devine. An aging town in New England would have similar indignation but nothing on the scale of what a city full of the elderly in Ireland would. It’s a minor point but keeps viewers wondering where the town in the film is supposed to be. Kilnerry also exists outside our modern world. There are no iPhones. There seem to be no state or national events discussed. There is no politics. Kilnerry is Brigadoon.
The film is beautifully shot, with the water and the mountains around the town stunning. The soundtrack relies on timely shots of pop music to punch up emotional moments. As the fun and heartfelt tale progress, the freedom of the town’s collective love potion allows people to heal and act on their wildest dreams. Bringing the story from stage to film was clearly a labor of love for Keith, and that passion shines through in the filmmaking and his performance. Love in Kilnerry is wonderful.
"…clearly a labor of love for Keith, and that passion shines through..."