Angela's Ashes Movie Review


The title: Angela's Ashes refers to cigarettes and not cremation. If someone had told me this before I had entered the film, I might have enjoyed it more than I did. Then again, if someone had told me about the rest of the film, I might have asked for a final cigarette before going in to Angela's Ashes.

Such is the price of not reading your press packet.

Angela's Ashes is Alan Parker's adaptation of Frank McCourt's Pulitzer-Prize-Winning book. Like most Pulitzer-Prize-winners and their film adaptations, the adjective "long" is a good way to describe the movie. Despite having a shorter time than the three-hour Magnolia (Angela's Ashes clocks in at two-and-a-half), Angela's Ashes feels much more drawn out.

Angela's Ashes, unlike most films that never have a resolution, does not feel like it is going nowhere fast. It feels like it is going nowhere very slowly. Coming out of the theatre, that is the basic impression that I lifted off of the film. In the beginning, McCourt claims that "Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the Irish miserable childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood." The rest of the movie attempts to drill in this point.

While it is drilling in this point, the film also attempts to tackle (but never knocks down) such issues as prostitution, alcoholism, and the Catholic Church. I saw it, in fact, at a special screening for critics and Catholic clergy. The film takes on classically Irish and local topics, and has its actors adopt a thick Irish accent (as if Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle didn't have thick enough accents already). The script is thick with colloquialisms.

Despite a wonderful managing of the struggles of making an American film about the Irish, the film does a terrible mismanaging of its plot. The film is very unfocused, jumping from topic to topic and never having a resolution along any lines that the film accentuates.

To its strong credit, I found that Angela's Ashes is able to push my emotional buttons. This is not to say I liked the film. It is to say that Emily Watson delivers an outstanding performance, Robert Carlyle does his usual work (that is, an exceptional job), and Michael Legee plays Frank McCourt to a tear-jerking (almost) T. John Williams helps everyone out with a score that, devoid of which, the film could not have survived. Also, a degree of religious humor helps the film's pacing.

I must admit that this is a film that I believe only Irish Catholics can enjoy. It is so regional and so tied in with Catholicism that it shuns the outsider. Since I am neither Irish nor Catholic I wouldn't really know, but the Irish Catholic audience seemed to enjoy it, and since the film has little else to its credit, that has to be the explanation.

It has to be, because without local support and acting and music, the film can't stand on its own two emaciated legs.

Bless me father for I have sinned.


Angela's Ashes Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, 1999


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