The Drummer and the Keeper kicks off with the striking image of a completely bare-arsed man dragging a sofa into the middle of a beach before lighting it on fire. This is Gabriel (Dermot Murphy), a talented young drummer with a penchant for elaborate stunts (on top of the sofa burning, he also drives a hearse), who we later learn suffers from bipolar disorder.
After a bad episode, Gabriel’s therapist prescribes physical activity, and it’s at one of these doctor-ordered football games that Gabriel meets and befriends Christopher (Jacob McCarthy), a 17 year-old with Asperger’s. Their bonding, with Gabriel learning sensitivity and control while he teaches Christopher about the wilder parts of life, hits every single beat you’d expect. Even with its unusual focus on the difference between mental health issues and developmental disorders, there’s hardly a second of The Drummer and the Keeper that has the capacity to surprise.
You can pretty much map out each scene beat-for-beat the second they start, and though this isn’t too crippling a problem in the first two acts, with a sweet heart deflecting a lot of cynicism, it sinks the film in the final third. As things get darker and crueller during the inevitable “breakup” phase, the hackneyed predictability becomes deeply frustrating.
There’s undeniably fun to be had in some of first-time writer-director Nick Kelly’s set pieces, but the steadfast refusal to innovate, along with some pretty bland dialogue, leads to a quick sense of diminishing returns, and his writing of the female roles is pretty woeful.
Murphy and McCarthy are pretty good throughout, but they can’t nail the big speeches they’re given towards the end, which only makes the unoriginal writing that much more conspicuous. If you want an Ireland-set story of music and friendship, just rewatch Sing Street instead.
CAST: Dermot Murphy, Jacob McCarthy, Charlie Kelly
DIRECTOR: Nick Kelly
WRITER: Nick Kelly
SYNOPSIS: A rock drummer with bipolar disorder builds an unusual friendship with a goalie who has Asperger syndrome.