Declan Recks’s Eden, with a script adapted by Eugene O’Brien from his own play, is the latest from the producers of the exhilarating Once, and that, along with a couple commendable acting turns from Aidan Kelly and Eileen Walsh as Billy and Breda Farrell, an Irish couple with two kids who find their marriage stagnating after a decade, is pretty much all it’s got going for it. Simply put, Eden is like knockoff Leigh or Loach, unfocused kitchen-sink realism.
Seemingly in an effort to make up for O’Brien’s anemic script, Recks energizes the slow-moving tale with nonstop distracting camerawork, from numerous over-the-shoulder tracking shots to Breda masturbating in the bathtub as seen through a red pane of glass. Eden’s story doesn’t sneak up on you or pull you in, but rather alienates through cliché: Breda’s weight-loss kick; the new haircut to make her husband desire her again; Billy’s attraction to the much younger woman in the pub; and the way his love for his wife is muted by his having fallen out of lust for her, even as she’s still hot for him. These are all textbook examples of marital woe.
When Breda divulges to her friend her dream of being plucked from a group of women standing on a bank by a beautiful man, only to break down in tears as she gets to the part of their passionate lovemaking, Walsh’s performance is right on the money. But what does that matter if the scene seems merely a monologue for Acting 101? Even the close-ups on Billy’s face as his thoughts drift from his buddies’ conversations—at one point he actually rises from the grass, walks away with tears in his eyes as the swooning melancholy music cues us into “sad moment”—is just an acting exercise for the camera. What Recks fails to grasp is that a few lovely character studies do not a movie make.
Unfortunately, by the time Eden reaches its one moment of truth—in which Billy ditches Breda at a nightclub on their anniversary to sneak off to a party where his young obsession will be—it’s too little too late. As Billy literally dodges his marriage we’re treated to the first scene that both moves and moves us, that’s heartfelt and real. If the rest of O’Brien’s screenplay were this strong perhaps Eden would have arrived within spitting distance of its unreachable paradise.