Butcher Boy [1997]

Genre: Comedy, Drama
You can't write off Francie Brady, apple-cheeked hero of The Butcher Boy, as a bad seed and have done with him. In Irish director Neil Jordan's often-surreal fairy tales, bad seeds grow the fruit of subversive knowledge: A master of blending the everyday with the truly mad and wonderfully weird, Jordan loves to encourage charismatic anarchists--driven by amoral energy and imagination--to attack the status quo with extreme prejudice. Exuberant Francie (Eamonn Owens, making a splendid debut) is a thorn in the side of rural Irish repression and hypocrisy. Better to call this smart, too-sensitive brat an ambulatory Rorschach, an uncensored billboard of his disapproving society's uglier truths and fears. A nonstop standup comedian ("And the Francie Brady Not a Bad Bastard Anymore Award goes to--Great God, I think it's Francie Brady!"), he projects fantasies of '60s cold war paranoia (atomic warfare leaves his village a graveyard of charred pigs), American "cowboys and Indians" pop culture, and Catholic Madonna worship (Sinead O'Connor appears as an earthy Virgin Mary). But Francie's rich fantasy life is no match for reality's "slings and arrows": His abusive da (Stephen Rea) pickles himself in drink, his fragile mother edges closer to suicide, "blood brother" Joe turns Judas, and a punitive stint at a Catholic reformatory ends with our Gaelic Holden Caulfield tricked out in girlish bonnet and ruffles, plaything of an addled old priest (Milo O'Shea). No wonder Francie's ultimately driven to exorcize his own Wicked Witch of the West. (He sees Mrs. Nugent (Fiona Shaw), self-righteous pillar of a callous community, as the cause of his cursed life.) Laced with tragedy and hilarity, great beauty and horror, Jordan's adaptation of the Patrick McCabe bestseller mutates the adventures of Francie Brady--psychotic killer, performance artist, and purest innocent--into a sort of saint's life. --Kathleen Murphy

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