Angela's Ashes

on December 25, 1999 by Francesca Dinglasan
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Based on Frank McCourt's Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir of the same title, "Angela's Ashes" is the coming-of-age tale of the author's impoverished young life in Limerick, Ireland. Opening with the film's narrator (an adult Frank) reciting the book's most famous passage, "Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood," the dolorous and abrogating leitmotif associated with early 1930s Ireland is established immediately, setting the melancholy tone that colors the entire pic.
After the death of their newborn baby girl, the McCourt family return to their native Ireland, leaving behind the unfulfilled promise of the United States. The grievous condition of their homeland, which suffers from the worldwide Depression and widespread consumption, provides the clan even less hope. At the center of this turmoil is Frank (Joe Breen/Ciaran Owens/Michael Legge), who, with the aid of his indomitably spirited mother (Emily Watson) and his playful brother Malachy Jr. (Shane Murray-Corcoran), learns how to persevere despite the dire circumstances of his life, including the continuing deaths of his siblings, an alcoholic father (Robert Carlyle) and the oppressive nature of his Catholic religion.
Despite the grievous mood integral to telling the story of the McCourt family, "Angela's Ashes" never descends to a level of complete despondency--a quality attributable to a script that incorporates the humor of the original autobiography. Heightened by the incredibly moving performances of newcomer Breen as five-year-old Frank and Owens as 10-year-old Frank, the film shines with an optimism resulting from McCourt's ability to find comedy in even the most desperate of situations. Catholic jokes--sure to offend some, but amuse many more--are presented in hilarious rapid-fire succession, including a First Communion mishap that sees Frank's grandmother complaining about the "body and blood of Christ" being splattered all over her backyard.
Noteworth y, too, is Carlyle's heartbreaking portrayal of Frank's loving but ultimately destructive father, whose relationship with his son, like "Angela's Ashes" itself, simultaneously depicts moments of aching tenderness and gut-wrenching sorrow. Starring Emily Watson, Robert Carlyle, Michael Legge, Ciaran Owens, Joe Breen and Shane Murray-Corcoran. Directed by Allen Parker. Written by Laura Jones and Allen Parker. Produced by David Brown, Alan Parker and Scott Rudin. A Paramount release. Drama. Rated R for language and some sexual content. Running time: 145 min
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