If for nothing else, young actor Barry McEvoy certainly earns points for finding a new and unusual way of addressing the oft-explored issue of the Northern Ireland Catholic/Protestant conflict in his script for “An Everlasting Piece.” Fortunately, there is more to savor in Barry Levinson’s film of McEvoy’s script–though those charms aren’t quite enough to take this modest comedy over the top.
Interestingly enough, the term “over the top” is one that really cannot be applied to the film, a fairly surprising fact given its wacky premise. Sometime in Belfast during the 1980s, Colm (McEvoy) and George (Brían F. O’Byrne)–a Catholic and a Protestant, respectively–meet on the job as barbers in a mental hospital and become fast friends. When they learn that a recently admitted patient aptly nicknamed “the Scalper” (Billy Connolly) was the only toupee salesman serving all of Northern Ireland, Colm and George see an opportunity to make it big as his piece-pushing replacements. That’s easier said than done, for the newly-christened “Piece People” (as Colm and George come to call themselves) aren’t the only team with the same idea–emerging from nowhere are the equally enterprising but superior salesmen operating under the eyecatching name Toupee or Not Toupee.
Colm and George’s biggest obstacle, however, ultimately proves to be their differing religions. That fact may not be an issue to them or their families, but it’s the only one to the Irish Republican Army, namely one member (Colum Convey) with whom the pair come into close contact. It’s a credit to McEvoy and Levinson that the film smoothly slides from light laughs to heavier material without a hint of awkwardness. Also contributing greatly is the cast of mostly fresh faces, who are adept at handling both the comic and the dramatic. More than holding her own with the instantly likable pair of McEvoy and O’Byrne is the delightful Anna Friel, who makes Colm’s girlfriend Bronagh as smart as she is spunky and sexy.
Despite the cast’s considerable charm, “An Everlasting Piece” still falls short of the mark. McEvoy, while displaying promise as a writer, is at this point more skilled with his acting instrument than he is with a pen. His lively sense of humor makes for a number of amusing sequences, but sometimes these scenes are inconsequential diversions; case in point, a broad scene where Colm’s mother mistakes a stranger sleeping outside the house for his younger brother. Also, the character of the Scalper is rather clunkily kept in the action far longer than necessity requires, sticking around for no real payoff.
Now and again, though, McEvoy serves up some pointedly, sometimes absurdly, funny moments, such as Colm and George’s initial encounter with the IRA man; and his passionate concern over the Northern Ireland issue shines through. Similarly apparent in “An Everlasting Piece” are the high spirits with which all involved approached the project, making this easygoing entertainment that more impossible to hate. It’s unfortunate, then, that some shortcomings also make this undeniably likable and sometimes lively film difficult to completely embrace.