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As far as problems go, Nan (Fionnula Flanagan) has quite a few on her plate: she’s just about to turn 80; her pie-in-the-sky son, Colm (Pat Shortt), is habitually unemployed; her daughters, Margaret (Eva Birthistle) and Annie (Lesley Conroy), don’t understand her; her granddaughter, Emma (Kelly Thornton), doesn’t want to spend time with her; and her little Irish town is just about as economically depressed as one place can get. And she’s just had her life savings accidentally sent to the landfill by her well-meaning but hopelessly inept family: you know…no big deal.

The loss of Nan’s fortune (she was quite the thrifty saver!) is, of course, only the catalyst of writer-director Lance Daly’s low-key Life’s a Breeze (2013): the meat of the matter is the way in which her dysfunctional family must pull together in order to undo their own colossal blunder, during which they’ll heal old wounds, create new friendships and actually become a family. As the motley group races around town, desperately seeking the tossed-out mattress that holds just south of a million euros, they’ll learn the most important lesson of all: family may drive you crazy but, when the chips are down, they’re also the only people you can ever really rely on.

Story-wise, Life’s a Breeze (which takes its name from the logo on a prominent air freshener, in but one of many sly sight gags) is pretty standard-issue, independent film dramady but it’s elevated exponentially by a truly great cast. As always, Fionnula Flanagan is a complete treasure, one of those actors who is so immensely entertaining that she can carry just about production on her shoulders. In this case, however, the heavy-lifting is alleviated by the presence of Pat Shortt (equally outstanding in The Guard (2011) and Calvary (2014)), Eva Birthistle and Lesley Conroy as Nan’s constantly feuding children. The chemistry between the family is pitch-perfect, leading to some deliciously on-the-nose bickering, all tempered by a genuine sense that these misfits actually love each other.

If Life’s a Breeze has a secret weapon (besides Flanagan, of course), it definitely lies with Kelly Thornton. This is her debut and, to be honest, she’s nothing short of astounding. Emma’s coming-of-age journey from petulant teen to strong, confident young woman is never less than riveting and Thornton very nearly steals any scene that she’s in. With her ever-present knit cap (complete with ears), Emma often reminds of a life-action version of the incomparable Louise Belcher and I mean that in the absolute best way possible. Suffice to say that I hope (and expect) to see much more of Thornton in the future: everything about her performance suggests that she’s just beginning what promises to be a must-see career.

Ultimately, Life’s a Breeze is an agreeable, surprisingly serious and incredibly well-acted (if overly familiar) entry in the “dysfunctional family” subgroup of independent films. Fans of Fionnula Flanagan (and, let’s be honest, who isn’t?) will definitely want to check this out but I suspect that Kelly Thornton’s Emma will be the one that stays on most audience member’s minds well after the credits roll. At the end of the day, Daly’s film is really about the passing of the torch from the older generation to the younger and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of receiving that prestigious flaming honor than Thornton.

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