8 out of 10
New Spin on Metamorphosis
A cleverly scripted comedy from Jim Henson Studios (the creators of the Muppets), Rat is the story of the Flynns, a dysfunctional Catholic family in Dublin. In a modern day spin on Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis," mild-mannered bread delivery man, Hubert Flynn is suddenly transformed into a rat following an argument with his wife Conchita. Assisted by journalist Phelium Spratt, who convinces the family to allow him to write his biography as a rat, and plagued by Hubert's first love Daisy Farrdell, Conchita seeks the wisdom of her brother-in-law Matt: how can he drive the truck as a rat, could he claim welfare and how does this affect the family? Together with her children, Pius and Marietta, she faces having to abandon him at a maggot factory in the hope that he will come to his senses and return to his original form.
The movie features fine performances with ideal casting including some Irish and British greats. Imelda Staunton is perfect as the shrill Conchita, Pete Postlethwaite as doting Hubert (in human form), Frank Kelly (Father Jack Hackett from "Father Ted") as Uncle Matt, newcomer Andrew Lovern as the devious Pius and Kerry Condon as sympathetic daughter Marietta, proclaiming "he may eat maggots and live in a cage but his is still our dad." Supporting are young Irish comedian Ed Byrne as Marietta's boyfriend Rudolf, Geoffrey Palmer ("Butterflies," "As Time Goes By") as the doctor and the colourful veteran from the famous Irish TV drama "Ballykissangel" Niall Toibin as the blood-and-thunder parish priest who is all too trigger-happy with the exorcism kit.
The script was written by Irish soap opera writer Wesley Burrowes, previously known for his work on "The Riordans." With references to the music of Doris Day, the deadpan way the family in 1970's clothing handles Hubert's transformation and the families conspicuously un-Irish names, it hearkens back to the good old days and creates an almost Pythonesque atmosphere of absurdness.
Shot on location in Dublin with perfect extras and location shots, the movie also features some excellent cinematography from Brian Galvin ("Veronica Guerin") which gives it character and charm similar to "The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain" and "The Snapper." Director Steve Barron (previously known for A-ha's video "Take on Me") and editor David Yardley ("The Commitments") have also done a brilliant job in creating a colourful fast-paced comedy, illustrating the life that Hubert has come to loath and is desperate from which to escape while at the same time giving it a dark but friendly Irish feel. For a movie of this budget, the special effects and animatronics also add another dimension with the transformed Hubert taking central stage.
Sadly, with a North American box office of only $2501 as a result of it's almost non-existant release, Rat remains a largely hidden treasure which is a deep shame for this bright, lovely and charming family comedy.
Film Critic: Jennifer M Lillies