Anyone’s teenage years can be rough. High school may be the best time of your life (yikes), the worst time of your life, or somewhere in between. For Irene, an outcast overweight girl too weird for her peers, it’s sort of all three at once.
Don’t Talk to Irene pays homage to the John Hughes films of the 1980s. From the 80s-inspired soundtrack to colorful clothes, hanging out with Irene in small town Canada almost feels like a time machine. Director/writer Pat Mills has certainly done John Hughes proud as Don’t Talk to Irene is a fun and heartwarming story about a girl unafraid to stand out.
Irene (Michelle McLeod) is your typical high school underdog. She’s overweight, wears glasses, has trouble making friends, and spends much of the film talking to a poster of Geena Davis from A League of Their Own as if they were best friends. Her single mom (Anastasia Phillips), a popular cheerleader turned teen mom, openly resents her daughter’s weirdness yet strives to protect Irene from bullies by banning cell phones, Internet and television from the house. In a different film, this could be depressing. And yet Irene is sunny and upbeat, confused when others laugh at her dream of becoming a cheerleader. While certainly cringeworthy, her attitude is infectious and McLeod plays it with all the charm of an awkward teenager.
The most delightful gag is Irene’s ongoing conversation with her Geena Davis poster hanging above her bed, a woman whom she considers to be God. Davis plays herself as both narrator and conversationalist, and it’s incredibly entertaining. Davis encourages her to never give up, to stay kind and strong, while stoically reminding Irene that she’s actually just a figment of her imagination.
The plot is fun if fairly predictable. Irene ends up having to volunteer at a retirement home with one of the mean girls and eventually wins the retirement home over by recruiting them to become her dance team. She sneaks them vodka and teaches them to keep dancing and moving, and they teach her to stand up to bullies.
The film, as with any teen flick worth its salt, also includes a big dance number towards the end, again echoing those 80s films. It’s infectious fun, much like the film itself. While the dialogue errs on the mean side and the body-positivity message hits a little hard, Don’t Talk to Irene is a thoroughly entertaining comedy that doesn’t mind delivering a dose of fluffy sunshine right alongside sharp wit.