A mostly pleasant surprise in a year that has produced a lack of stellar animated outings.
"Stella Days" (87 minutes) available via iTunes, VuDu, Amazon Instant Video and most other VOD providers (check your local listings). It is also playing in limited theatrical release.
by Jeff Shannon
It seems somehow belittling to pigeon-hole the ever-so-Irish "Stella Days" as a comedy/drama or (saints forgive us!) as that dubious hybrid known as "dramedy." It is, more accurately, a heartfelt, thematically ambitious exploration of fragile faith confronted by rigid dogma, and its dramatic substance is leavened by the kind of wry, tenacious good humor that has defined the Irish character for centuries.
That low-key humor prevails throughout the film but is most evident in the opening scenes, as when Father Daniel Barry (Martin Sheen) arrives at the bedside of an old, dying woman on the outskirts of Borrisokane, the tiny town in North Tipperary that is home to Barry's parish. He's there to deliver last rites (not for the first time), but the old lady's as tenacious as a potato in barren Irish soil, and all she wants is to hear Father Barry's mellifluous Latin prayer so she can sleep peacefully and live to see another day.
"The last rites are not medicine," he tells her with fond familiarity, knowing he'll eventually return to deliver last rites for real. "Doctor Brady's your man for that."
"Oh, he could never cure me," says Peggy. "I don't know what I'll do when you go back to Rome."
There lies the rub: Father Barry doesn't know it yet, but he won't be returning to his post at the Vatican any time soon. He's a Catholic scholar, an intellectual desperately eager to finish his thesis on St. John at the Cross. He's far less rigid in his thinking than his uptight superiors, most notably Bishop Hegarty (Tom Hickey), a stern traditionalist who finds it necessary to remind Father Barry that "being an Irish parish priest is not a penance."