With the Irish economy in a state of crisis and recession, it’s nearly impossible to sell anything seemingly deemed a luxury item or hold down a job. Enter the partnership of Michael Flynn, a.k.a Mattress Mick, and Paul Kelly. In desperate need of salvaging his fledgling chain of mattress shops (a franchise he hopes will one day become “the McDonalds of mattresses), he agrees to take the hard working, unemployed Paul up on a business offer. For two-hundred Euros a month under the table, Paul will help out around the shop, but more importantly film a series of increasingly bizarre and elaborate adverts that will go viral on YouTube. Paul, already on public assistance, in debt to creditors, and in desperate need to provide for his family, succeeds in his aims to make the fictional Mattress Mick an internet superstar. But once fame comes calling, so too do people who want to get in Michael’s pocket for a share of the glory; the kind willing to bump poor Paul out of the picture altogether.
On paper, the idea of a rapping mattress salesman sounds like a quirky starting point for a whimsical story, but outside of some huge laughs, filmmaker Colm Quinn’s Mattress Men is a heartrending look at life on the poverty line. There’s something in those slapdash, almost surrealist commercials that speaks to the scrappy, can-do viewpoint of all parties involved. Similarly, Paul’s dilemmas behind the camera and outside the shop are achingly real. Quinn captures intimate moments with Paul’s family beautifully to remind the audience at every turn what’s really at stake.
It’s not so much about the art of selling mattresses or what it takes to be a showman. It’s not even about being the unheralded “guy behind the guy.” Mattress Men is a poignant tale of economic and emotional struggle. Mattress Mick’s clips have been sensations on the internet, but now hopefully the whole world can truly appreciate the heartfelt place they came from.