Peterborough, Ontario, resident Megan Murphy comes from a close-knit family, and it shows. Growing up in front of her family’s home video camera, her family’s home videos, many of which depict Murphy growing up in the ’80s and early ’90s, are the true star of her documentary, Murphy’s Law, an homage to her late father and Ireland.
Murphy was evidently particularly close with her father, Marty, a talkative, social, and well-known attorney who died from cancer ten years earlier. When Murphy’s mother subsequently dies, Murphy, who just broke up with her fiance, moves in to her childhood home, where she discovers her father’s long-presumed-lost forty-year-old diary, which he maintained while he embarked on an epic bike tour of Ireland. Murphy also finds the very bike her father used to explore the island, and Murphy repairs it and embarks on her own bike tour of Ireland. Taking her father’s diary and using her father’s bike, Murphy decides to pedal 100 km a day and visit the same places and people her father had visited some four decades earlier.
During the trip, Murphy recreates some of her father’s photos of his Irish bike trip, including sitting on the edge of waterfalls and cliffs and visiting churches and centuries-old castles. Intersected throughout the documentary are images from the family’s home movies, including Murphy as a kid and teen, and her father in his prime giving speeches to packed auditoriums. Murphy, who evidently inherited her father’s social confidence, even visits distant cousins from her maternal grandmother’s side and talks to strangers about her travels. When Murphy arrives at her last stop, on the west coast of Ireland, where her mother had hired a family friend to place a plaque honouring Marty, Murphy’s family is there cheering her on as she finishes her 1500 km trek.
Although Murphy and a voice actor read clips of Marty’s journal, the documentary takes a long time to connect with the audience. A large part of this is because of Murphy’s voice-over narration, spoken in a cold, distancing manner, is sweeping in generalizations and low on specific emotions; and her father’s journal entries, which are great prose, ultimately don’t add anything.
However, the true pay off comes at the end, when Murphy arrives home and she finds additional artifacts that made her trip worthwhile. They bring Murphy to tears, and the subsequent montage of home videos and images of her trip remind us that death impacts us all, sometimes deeply. Murphy’s trip evidently meant a lot to her. But for the audience, it’s unfortunate that we have to wait until the end of the film for the emotional impact.