It is tempting to dismiss this as a condescending survey of the only semi-modernized Ireland of Irish-Americans nostalgia, overbearing on dry humor that is not funny to anyone not broadly familiar with Irish history and sociology, and particularly so since the lead roles are filled by Americans. Yet as anyone who has been to Ireland will discover, it is difficult to draw the distinction between the packaged commercialization of Irish culture and Irish culture itself--partially because entities like the Guinness Irish Pub Co. are just plain good at what they do, so that the Irish themselves get wrapped up in it. (Go to any well-designed "Irish pub" in a major U.S. city and I guarantee you will find Irish people drinking there themselves.) With this in mind, it is a shame they had to change the U.S. title to the rather bland, Hollywood-esquire "Summer Fling" presumably to get into the theaters, since pretty much everyone who would want to see this movie would understand "The Last of the High Kings." But I suppose I digress.
Frankie Griffin is desperate to be "normal," yet stuck in a family of idiosyncrasies and waiting painfully for his exam results to return so that he can know whether he will be going to university. The film is not entirely clear what drives this desire for "normalcy," nor does it seem wholly sympathetic toward his somewhat immature proclamation of self-emancipation from the bonds of Catholicism, Fianna Fáil, and chastity. Frankie is apparently highly gifted in the letters and in music, yet he refuses to show this to anyone, even to the end. Perhaps, then, the admonition of his stern and quirky yet very loving mother that "There are plenty of good Protestants... It's a shame they're all dead" (along with accusing Jayne of being a "Protestant bitch," which she is, though not because of her Protestantism) is a hint that his true coming of age will only come with his embracing of his family and identity.
The Last of the High Kings is a fun little ride when it takes us into those nostalgic facets of 1970's Ireland and despite its theme, admits that no one these days really comes of age by 17. It is not, however, one of my favorites, owing to its choppy progression and holding back of sympathetic notes for the main characters.