This article is from the WSSF 2004 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
By Louise Stack
Universal Pictures, 2000, Rated PG, 104 minutes
Directed by Steve Barron, written by Wesley Burrowes
Starring: Pete Postlethwaite (from In the Name of the Father, The Usual Suspects), Imelda Staunton (from Shakespeare in Love, Sense and Sensibility)
Picture this: One minute you are lying on your bed reading the evening newspaper, feeling a bit odd, and the next moment you realize you’ve metamorphized into a rat! Such was the dilemma of 53-year-old bread delivery man Hubert Flynn (Pete Postlethwaite) in the hilarious comedy Rat. Most men, of course, are only rats in the metaphorical sense, but Hubert Flynn actually turns into a rodent overnight.
Rat is a surreal Irish fable of sorts, that overflows with off-beat humor working on the premise that if you act like a rat, you might just turn into one.
Hubert’s metamorphosis is dealt with in a down-to-earth manor by his wife, her brother, and their
children. No one is quite sure why Hubert has turned into a mis-marked black and white rat. Conchita
(Imelda Staunton), his shrewish wife, actually believes he’s turned into a rat just to spite her. His
loving daughter Marietta (Kerry Condon) handles his transformation reasonably well, though she’s
hesitant about introducing him to her fiancé. His son Pius (Andrew Lovern), whose heart is set on
becoming a priest, is worried that he won’t be accepted into the priesthood due to his father’s
rodent status. Uncle Matt (Frank Kelly), knows a thing or two about Rattus norvegicus and
Rattus rattus and tries to reassure the family that there are worse things than being a rat.
Hubert’s simply a rat with a fondness for stout, insists Uncle Matt.
When ambitious freelance journalist Phelim Spratt (David Wilmot) hears about Hubert, he immediately bicycles over to the Flynn house in Dublin suburb of Kimmage. Spratt tells them he wants to ghostwrite a book, a supposedly heart-wrenching account of the family crisis. He promptly moves into their home to begin writing, assuring them they’ll all get rich from the book, which should turn into a major motion picture. Conchita seizes on the opportunity to squeeze something positive from her husband’s predicament, and in the process becomes a bit of a rat herself.
During his trials and tribulations Hubert gets thrown over a fence into a maggot factory and tossed into a washing machine for a quick bath after being drenched with beer during a hilarious chase scene. The Jim Henson Company handled these trickier rodent moments through animatronics, though in the end the animatronics took second place to the real rats, who were natural born actors.
Director Steve Barron (who made his name as a pioneer of music videos directing the Billie Jean video for Michael Jackson, also directed the films Electric Dreams, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In Rat, Barron elicits wonderfully straight-faced performances from his impressive cast.
Irish veteran TV soap opera writer Wesley Burrowes has created an original and entertaining piece of work. Burrowes creates a world in which the viewer comes to quickly accept the offhand way in which Hubert’s family and the community cope with his transformation. Rat takes a little while to establish its comic tone, but once it settles into a kind of Irish magic realism, the deadpan reactions become strikingly funny.
Though Rat has no title theme song sung by a pop star singer (as did the movie Ben), it does have as musical director Bob Geldof, formerly of the popular punk music band the Boomtown Rats.
Rat debuted in October of 2000 at the Galway Film Festival and was very well received by audiences who loved its quirky take.
Checking the Internet for movie reviews, nine reviews all favorably raved about Rat. The only negative remark concerned the movie’s title, saying it could have been much more creative. They also worried that this film would have trouble finding an audience because after all, it’s about a rat!
If Rat sounds like it would tickle your funny bone, it can be purchased on DVD by checking Amazon.