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Overall Rating

Awesome: 22.45%
Worth A Look40.82%
Average: 20.41%
Pretty Bad: 2.04%
Total Crap: 14.29%

4 reviews, 25 user ratings

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Angela's Ashes
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Gritty yet lyrical; an honorable adaptation."
4 stars

'Angela's Ashes' has a beautiful ugly look. Rain soaks the dirty streets of Ireland, turning every public area (and even some interiors) into mud puddles. The film itself seems to have been bled dry by a vampire, and the pale, skinny people plod through the muck and drizzle like wraiths. When young Frank McCourt comes down with a nasty case of conjunctivitis, it's the first sign of color in his face. All of this squalor is perfectly composed and lighted, as if the director Alan Parker were trying to find a visual equivalent to McCourt's elegant prose.

The movie is bleak, depressing, and almost entirely grim -- every time a character enjoys a small triumph, a big letdown is right on its heels. (This is the sort of film in which a man finally finds a job after months of searching, then celebrates at a pub and gets so drunk he oversleeps the next day and gets fired.) Angela's Ashes doesn't have a chance of scoring with a mass audience (despite the popularity of McCourt's bestseller), but I thoroughly enjoyed it -- enjoyed the relentless gloomy realism, the refusal to put a happy face on McCourt's miserable childhood. The events of the story are saddening; the movie's integrity in handling them without flinching or melodrama is satisfying, even refreshing.

Angela's Ashes begins not in Limerick (where most of the film is set) but in Brooklyn, New York -- a confusing and intriguing starting point for viewers who haven't read the book: Isn't this supposed to be an Irish story? The McCourt parents -- Malachy (Robert Carlyle), a hapless drunk, and his long-suffering wife Angela (Emily Watson) -- watch as their newborn baby girl dies. They already have four other children, including Frank, and they decide to move back to Ireland, because Malachy isn't having any luck in America. He has no better luck in Limerick, mainly because he spends the family's little money at the pub.

In the past, Alan Parker has directed with a sledgehammer (particularly in Midnight Express and Mississippi Burning) -- skillfully wielded, true, but some of us get tired of being hammered. Working with less sensational material, though, Parker relaxes; he doesn't have to push so hard. Angela's Ashes is actually fairly similar to his best film (for me), 1982's divorce drama Shoot the Moon, also about a pathetic husband and father trying to hold his family together in the face of his wife's contempt; the movies could be bookend pieces -- the dysfunctional family in America and Ireland. (The absent father was also a theme in his Pink Floyd - The Wall, though that was more Roger Waters' conception.) Here, Parker's work is naturalistic yet subtly stylized. You see the beauty in the Limerick slums because that's what the young Frank sees; he has no choice.

Parker isn't just a cold technician; he usually gets rich performances, and he guides Watson and Carlyle through specific portraits of misery, not just stereotypes of the Drunken Dad and Bitter Mom. The actors make you feel the hopelessness of their situation; they see no beauty in their surroundings. Parker has also deftly cast the young Frank with three impressive child actors (Joe Breen as the little Frank, Ciaran Owens as the adolescent Frank, Michael Legge as the teen Frank), even though they don't much resemble each other. It's as if the harsh life in Limerick had reshaped Frank's features at each stage of development.

I suppose some admirers of the book may be disappointed: A book is a book and a film is a film. And it's one thing to read about McCourt's long list of childhood tragedies -- it's quite another to actually see the dying babies, the grotesque living conditions, the sheep's head served for Christmas dinner. I sympathize with those who find the movie 'Angela's Ashes' too depressing, but on some level, perhaps, in removing much of Frank McCourt's distancing lyricism, Parker has given us a more honest account. Should dying babies not be depressing?

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originally posted: 12/30/06 12:24:58
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User Comments

8/16/07 marina depressing 3 stars
7/09/04 tatum Excellent 5 stars
1/29/03 Pinkline Jones The feelgood film of the Year - Lots of laughs for the whole family 5 stars
8/09/01 Valerie It was very depressing, but it left me feeling appreciative of my childhood. 4 stars
6/12/01 Terrie Smith Excellent novel but the film was a disappointment; Emily Watson keeps the film alive. 4 stars
8/18/00 Girl 9 An unpredictible captivating story with a few good laughs on the side. 4 stars
6/27/00 rob in pa Outstanding-beautifully done from start to finish. 5 stars
5/19/00 John It is good, I loved it. 5 stars
5/18/00 Elvisfan Completely unsentimental, engrossing, beautiful, heartbreaking 5 stars
5/03/00 Jean woow 5 stars
4/17/00 punkass Whilst there is real tradgedy in this film, the humour and human spirit keep you going. 3 stars
3/08/00 Dick a little long but engrossing 4 stars
2/14/00 earl duron wonderful slice of life 5 stars
2/12/00 jenn "Blu Smrf" amazing, a true work of art! it's long, yet worth every possible minute given to you! 5 stars
2/12/00 Skye Chapman parker missed boat. emotionally bland. no delight or triumph 2 stars
2/11/00 Victor Ramirez Is it just me or is Emily Whatson Hot as fuck? I think I am in love. 4 stars
2/11/00 Richard Wright Well acted and some moving parts, but far too long and they laid the tragedy a bit thick. 3 stars
2/08/00 Peter H. Burris Susceptible to mawkish sentiment, but well executed, noentheless 4 stars
1/30/00 Kevin Cho, movie-buff Disappointing from all the drama hype. Good movie, left me w/ headache. 3 stars
1/30/00 Irma Schwartz Worth the long journey... 4 stars
1/23/00 Kevin Cho Tear jerker - top acting, not as good as book, but still great. 5 stars
12/28/99 Dan R. Moving and well acted. 4 stars
12/25/99 Tha Obsequious Bad Janatah Please, hang me now! Simply god-awful (sorry God!) 1 stars
12/24/99 Bozo It was beautiful & heartbreaking & even funny, sometimes all at the same time 5 stars
12/19/99 Joe-139 Excellent performances all around. 5 stars
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  21-Jan-2000 (R)



Directed by
  Alan Parker

Written by
  Alan Parker
  Laura Jones

  Robert Carlyle
  Emily Watson
  Shane Murray-Corcoran

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