An unprepossessing name for a bittersweet little movie, 'Small Engine Repair' is another low-budget Irish film that is capable of punching above its weight. This debut feature about broken dreams and second chances from writer and director Niall Heery is set in a small town community dominated by the logging industry. It's a coming of middle-age drama superbly soundtracked by songs from the Bottle Rockets, Smog, Willard Grant Conspiracy and John Prine.
Fortysomething Doug (Glen) is the archetypical loser - a music teacher who can't keep his students, a forklift driver who is unable to get a job, a country and western singer with a demo that he refuses to play to anyone. His best friend is Bill (Mackintosh), a fellow misfit and the owner of the eponymous small engine repair workshop where he works with his long-suffering son, Tony (Kinlan). When their friend Burley (Graham) arrives home after a stint in prison for a hit-and-run, determined to find out who grassed him up, he throws a malign spanner into the works of their normal existence.
After discovering that his wife Agnes (Clarke, in one of the few female roles) has been cheating on him, Doug starts to focus on his music in a new way. A well-received gig in their friend's bar and a radio outing for his demo gives Doug a new perspective on life. But it is not easy to escape the negative perceptions of his own peers.
The Ireland of stereotypical cliché is avoided in 'Small Engine Repair', to the extent that the film's strongest sense of place - developed through dense forests, ever-present country and western music, deer hunting, plaid shirts, well-used pickup trucks and a neon-signed bar - is, strangely enough, that of middle-of-nowhere America. It is a gritty, masculine world, dominated by lonely men and their dysfunctional relationships. And yet, despite the general air of despondency and occasional clunky line, this honest but downbeat portrayal of a man, his friends and their broken dreams is quietly compelling.