Wah-Wah is the semi-autobiographical film by first-time director Richard E. Grant that contains a remarkable performance by Gabriel Byrne, who plays his father in the film. How Mr. Byrne managed to channel Mr. Grant’s father in his portrayal of this complicated man is a miracle. This is perhaps Gabriel’s finest performance on screen. We can argue about In Treatment, yes, but on the big screen, this is his shining moment. So far, anyway.
Alcoholism is a central part of Grant’s story and it is the topic of many films that we know and appreciate: The Lost Weekend, Days of Wine and Roses, A Star is Born. Those films generally centered on the victim. What Grant’s story brings to us is different: the family, especially the son, is trapped in the alcoholic’s duality–good and kind father and husband by day, monster by night. Once the drink takes hold, the familiar person morphs into someone whose passions and fears are unknown to us. What are loved ones to do? What is a young boy, whose mother has left him hostage to a complicated father, to do? That is the crux of this story, which takes place in Swaziland, at the moment when this country is taking its first steps to independence. These political affairs rightly become a backdrop for the more intimate story of a man whose life has been built on service to two countries and who sees it all slipping oh so quickly away–and the son who must grow up quickly in order to understand.
This is pretty painful stuff and the film is remarkably intimate and revealing. Richard E. Grant does not pull many punches in telling his story and he seems to pull no punches at all when re-creating his father for the film. One can only imagine the frisson of recognition he must have felt as Gabriel played this role, with the rages and tirades portrayed in all their violent detail, as well as the tender moments of regret and forgiveness. Gabriel pulled no punches himself. He did not shrink from the requirements to display anger, self-loathing, and the vituperative railings against those his character loved most. It must have been difficult. But what a performance and what a complete picture he gave us of this man on the brink.
The Wah-Wah Mega Movie Page offers promotional images, quotes from the film, videos, reviews, part of Grant’s film diary, and a bounty of screencaps provided by Lozzie, screencaps which capture the range of Gabriel’s remarkable work in this film. Enjoy all of this bounty! Toodle-pip!