Eileen (Jackie Howe) is a former dancer, or “glorified stripper” if you ask her ex-husband, and a single mother of two, or three if you count her senile father. She’s trying to cope with her teenage son’s indifference (he’d rather play Wii than hang out with her) and her older daughter’s depressingly well-known antics (she’s inherited her mother’s fondness for erotic dancing and unplanned pregnancies). Eileen’s painstaking efforts to endure life’s daily struggles go quickly down the drain when she starts going out with a younger man, bringing her insecurities to the fore and leading her to start drinking again. Come on Eileen, the directorial feature debut of actress Finola Geraghty (Shaun of the Dead) follows the main character’s rapid descent into familial hell as her alcoholic ways make the bond she shares with everyone around her collapse dramatically. Perhaps too dramatically, as we’re rarely allowed a quiet moment to actually believe, or care, about Eileen’s struggles.
It all (re)starts when Eileen brings a new boyfriend home and he seems to get along a little too well with her daughter, Gypsy (Mercedes Grower), an unstable burlesque performer who’s never met her father. In one of the few truly authentic scenes in the film, we recognize in the pausing of Eileen’s face as she watches her boyfriend and daughter share a joke (about Eileen’s age) that a sob has been muffled, and something snaps inside of her, ever so mutedly. She discretely heads to the kitchen for a glass of water, which soon becomes a glass of booze, and quickly several bottles of it. The binge triggers a series of confrontations with her son, her daughter, her father, her sister, her boyfriend, and her ex-husband.
While there are a few delicate moments in which we see the complexity of the characters, as when Eileen’s son smells the glasses in the dishwasher to look for signs of his mother’s relapse, there are several quite uninspired situations and bits of dialogue. A woman’s drunken surrendering, whether in its hysteric (Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence) or foreboding (Paprika Steen in Applause) state, can make for quite enthralling cinema. But Come on Eileen rarely leaves the realm of the obvious and the literal. The revelation of intimacies that the alcohol triggers are uninteresting, the subplots feel forced, and the drunken stupors are too loud and incessant for us to ever connect with the character’s fragility. Geraghty never allows the camera to linger on Eileen herself for very long, choosing instead to focus on full-blown conflict after full-blown conflict, without realizing that it’s when Eileen is digesting the unsaid that her drama looks believable.