Casting matters. So does chemistry.

Aspiring drummer, rock-obsessive, bipolar Gabriel (Dermot Murphy) joins a football team at the urging of those closest and concerned with his state. Among his teammates, Christopher (Jacob McCarthy), institutionalised by his family, befriends Gabriel at the behest of their coach.

Gabriel is none too keen with Christopher, who has Asperger’s syndrome. The latter, taking the task seriously, very soon becomes a big part of Gabriel’s life.

Dispensing with the setup readily and with as few sequences as possible, it wasn’t an unwise creative decision given the appeal of the film centres almost exclusively on the sizeable time the two leads spend together. Murphy and McCarthy have an intrinsically endearing dynamic; leveraging drily comic gems from serious encounters while abruptly, and affectingly so, switching between that humorous and dramatically emotive.

Highlights shared by the pair range from them arguing over the extent of Christopher’s involvement in Gabriel’s band to emphatically advocating as regards their respective dignity and treatment. McCarthy, far and above the best addition to this movie, even manages a wry moment from Christopher affirming that Asperger’s is on the autism spectrum.

Tackling areas of comicality rarely tread, the humour innate to The Drummer and the Keeper is appealing for it’s frank navigation of matters that could otherwise, and ceaselessly as is the case if not unfairly so, be treated with utter seriousness. It’s also a refreshing manner of comedy for simply being relatively uncommon, though the recent Sanctuary, having screened at a previous Irish Film Festival, too fixed itself on a not dissimilar bent; ever-highlighting that those who aren’t typically the centre of comedies or romances of course have the same aspirations and predilections as anyone else.

Erring otherwise and when not centred on the duo, plot strands advance and dissipate in ready succession, only and conspicuously so to advance levels of interaction between Christopher and Gabriel. Not unpredictable in stretches, there are numerous characters whose stilted, exposition-driven dialogue distracts heavily from that so well evinced by the two main actors. Notably, one parental figure’s presence as well as their lines in most respects serve to underline the thematic direction of the story and blatantly so.

Steering the action to an inevitable speech, if very effectively delivered, a sequence not dissimilar to a penultimate one featured in perhaps cinema’s most famous depiction of a person on the autism spectrum near concludes The Drummer and the Keeper. But one scene in its staging heavily emblematic of that misgiving in the storytelling, the narrative drawbacks register none too greatly compared to that expounded together by McCarthy and Murphy; the pair’s performances deservedly recommending the film all on their own.

The Drummer and the Keeper screens as part of the Irish Film Festival

on Falkenscreen