Combustible Celluloid
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With: Emily Watson, Robert Carlyle, Joe Breen, Ciaran Owens, Michael Legge, Kerry Condon, Eamonn Owens
Written by: Alan Parker, Laura Jones, based on a book by Frank McCourt
Directed by: Alan Parker
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content and some language
Running Time: 146
Date: 03/19/2013

Angela's Ashes (1999)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Dull, Grey 'Ashes'

by Jeffrey M. Anderson

Author Frank McCourt has done a great job of documenting his miserable Irish-Catholic childhood in his books Angela's Ashes and Tis but, as with many popular novels, Hollywood came knocking, hoping to turn his story into a cash-cow that would appeal to both readers and non-readers. To do this, the story must be faithful to the book, yet dumbed-down for those who haven't read it, which almost always results in a lifeless lump of celluloid.

Angela's Ashes is about young Frank (played by three different actors at different ages) who leaves New York for Ireland at a young age with his mother (Emily Watson) and father (Robert Carlyle). They suffer, stand in bread lines, look for work, put up with horrible housing conditions, and weep as various siblings die off. Worse, the father drinks up all the money he earns. Wretchedness like this would be tolerable if it were done with total realism or with a sense of humor, but Angela's Ashes plunks its portrayal just in the middle. We're never aware of really being in Ireland and everything feels staged or stolen from other movies.

The proof is in the performances of Watson and Carlyle. One has only to look at their other, better movies like Breaking the Waves (1996) or The Full Monty (1997) to get an idea of how little they actually have to do here. Director Alan Parker's earlier The Commitments (1991), also set in Ireland, has a much more palpable feel of life and human relationships than does Angela's Ashes, and it's a musical! It's hard to imagine both films being made by the same man. I think Angela's Ashes needed a director like John Ford (1952's The Quiet Man) to get anything honest out of it. The movie we got instead is hogwash.

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