The Invention

By Leo McGuigan | Drama
A young boy hatches a plan to steal cigarettes.

Frankie is an 11-year-old young boy is growing up in Belfast in the 1960s, who loves listening to rock music on his record player. He’s growing up in a fairly conservative environment — his granny warns his head will blow up from listening to “devil music” on his headphones — but he’s aware of the changing currents of the world around him.

He’s also becoming aware of the tension and dilemmas of the grown-ups around him, including his father, who owes money to the wrong people. He concocts a scheme to help his father, buying cigarettes for a local teen, in exchange for a seat at a local poker game. But he soon finds himself in a world where he may be in over his head.

Warm, witty and consistently compelling throughout, this coming-of-age dramedy captures a time and place through the eyes of a young boy growing up during a tumultuous time in culture. Frank treads the line between innocence and experience, but as he takes on situations that are far more mature than he can handle, he finds his relationships with his family shifting as well.

The narrative’s writing is remarkable for a short film, able to juggle the stories of a tapestry of characters and weaving them together into a satisfying whole. Frank is the central node of these stories and his journey forms the bulk of the story, but branching off him are small windows into the worlds of his father, local criminals, young teenagers and other members of the community.

All of these stories are captured with a bright, clear eye for naturalism that allows us to focus on the people and situations that make up Frankie’s world. They also stylistically share dialogue that has a finely-honed ear for character and lightly quirky ironies. And all of them are observed by Frankie, who shows an ability to observe, understand what motivates people and uses these situations to his benefit, especially as he weaves his strategy to help his father.

Young actor Luke Walford plays Frankie with a blend of seriousness and sweetness that oscillates between youth and adolescence. He also has an innate intelligence and watchfulness that makes it believable he can dream up strategies and schemes to help his father. There is some fun and humor in observing how Frankie enters more grown-up worlds, taking advantage of being unseen or underestimated as a kid to outfox much older people. But the film gently but demonstrates the cost of growing up a little too fast, as Frankie starts to see his father differently.

“The Invention” ends with Frankie showing a startling maturity that is both humorous and perhaps a little sad, demonstrating the wisdom and restraint that his father perhaps should have had. It also achieves the poignant, wistful yet resolute tone that often is the hallmark of the best coming-of-age stories. Part of leaving childhood is realizing the human fallibility of the trusted grown-ups around us, and perhaps also realizing that the world is not as simple as we once thought. Like many, Frankie comes to accept this with a degree of resignation — but he also gains hard-won confidence in his abilities and resilience in exchange.

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