There are times a minimalist, slow paced film with more silence than events is a chore to watch, even if I recognize at some level artistically it has some merit. Other times, a film like that resonates with me, and I find its smallness and simplicity emotionally appropriate and somehow endearing.
Garage is of the latter type. I’m not going to overstate it and say this film blew me away, but I felt a connection to the main character almost from the very beginning, I was only a little bored here and there, and when all was said and done, I was moved by the film.
The movie is about a mildly retarded, externally cheerful fellow named Josie, who works at a gas station on the outskirts of a small town in Ireland. The owner generally leaves him there alone to take care of the minimal business, until he hires a teenage boy part time to help Josie out on weekends.
In some ways Josie is very social. He’s friendly and chatty with everyone he crosses paths with, ingratiating and approval-seeking, in an innocent and sincere rather than manipulative way. He spends a fair amount of time in town at the local pub, where everyone knows him.
But the more you observe him, the more you appreciate how truly alone he is. Literally alone most of the time, but even when he’s with people, he’s not at all close to anyone. Because he’s as slow as he is, some people ignore him as insignificant, some tease and bully him (in mild enough ways that he can laugh off), and some are superficially kind to him but make no effort to really get to know him or include him in their life at a significant level.
And though Josie seems aware of his loneliness and bothered by it, on the rare occasions when maybe there is an opening to get a little closer to someone, he doesn’t have the skills to make it happen anyway. Sometimes he doesn’t see the opportunity. Sometimes he does, but he either responds with his usual cheerful clichés and small talk because he doesn’t know what else to do, or he responds in a socially inappropriate way that wrecks the opportunity.
He’s especially out of step about anything sexual. I don’t know that he’s exceptionally horny and frustrated, but what is clear is that he wants to be a part of that world in one way or another. But even the people who like him associate his slowness with a kind of childlike innocence, and treat him as a self-evidently non-sexual being. Which he is not. He wants female companionship. He wants to be “one of the guys” and be included in the dirty jokes and male bonding over sexual quests and conquests. But no one sees him that way, no one truly welcomes that side of him.
So it’s a sweet, mildly funny movie for a while, but gradually you sense the sadness at the heart of it.
And the movie drifts farther and farther in that direction, with an increasing sense that his social awkwardness is going to set off some series of events beyond his control and comprehension that will threaten even the minimally tolerable life he’s created for himself.
That part probably hit home a little more with me than it would for some people, because that’s a pet peeve of mine, the way social awkwardness can be punished as much or more than intentional wrongdoing.
I don’t want people who are doing their best to come to grief just because they don’t or can’t play the social games in a way that puts everyone at ease around them. Anyway, most or all of the “harm” such awkwardness causes is generally optional on the part of others, who can choose to be offended or not.
It’s a slow-paced movie without a lot of action, and it’s short for a feature length film, but it packs a punch if you open yourself up to it and its protagonist. I did, and so I ended up hurting for Josie.
By the way, Garage is in English, but it’s fully subtitled due to the Irish accents. That’s helpful, and wouldn’t be a bad idea for some other movies I can think of that I’ve written about where I struggled with the heavy British/Scottish/Irish/Australian or whatever accents. Blind Flight, for one. I’m guessing I would have understood 75%-80% of the dialogue in this movie without the subtitles, so I certainly would have gotten the gist of it, but it’s better to know everything being said.