Breaking Out review – doc about Irish singer-songwriter lays the piety on thick

This tribute to the Irish singer-songwriter Fergus O’Farrell is loving and competently made, but to be honest it’s a wee bit of a snooze, thickly dusted as it is with platitudes and piety. O’Farrell, who died in 2016 from muscular dystrophy (with which he was diagnosed as a child), had been the lead singer in a cult band called Interference, who never quite made it big back in the late 1980s/early 90s.

You could posit all sorts of reasons for his lack of success, such as the fact that record companies were hesitant to sign an act whose front man was in a wheelchair, or that there was just too much competition in the rammed Dublin music scene at a time, when everyone thought they could be the next U2. Or perhaps – whisper it – it’s because the music isn’t all that great. O’Farrell certainly had a belter of a voice, and it’s touching to see him performing in his heyday when he was a strikingly handsome fellow with a hideous mullet. But there were scads of bands around at the time who could play and sing just as well, and O’Farrell’s songwriting was, to be generous, rather hit and miss. O’Farrell was also apparently a perfectionist who could never quite finish things, a point illustrated in the footage here of him finessing the same songs over and over again with friends and bandmates in his home studio for a second album he’s never satisfied with.

Nevertheless, he had one huge hit with Gold, a tune he wrote in the 1990s but which he sings beautifully in an affecting scene in the 2007 film Once. That romantic drama starred O’Farrell’s old friend Glen Hansard as a struggling Dublin musician who meets a Czech flower seller (Markéta Irglová); the film went on to be a worldwide dark-horse hit, spawning a stage musical and many live performances, not least for O’Farrell, who made it to Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan to perform for a career-high moment.

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