Circle of Friends [1995]

Genre: Drama, Romance
A polished gem from 1995, this disarmingly sweet and dramatically insightful love story provided a charming showcase for Chris O'Donnell and, especially, then-newcomer Minnie Driver, whose performance drew critical raves and boosted her career to Hollywood. Smoothly adapted from the novel by Maeve Binchy and set in Ireland during the 1950s, the story focuses on Benny (Driver), a somewhat plump, plain-looking young woman attending university in Dublin who meets and quickly falls for Jack (O'Donnell), a handsome star of the university's rugby team who surprisingly reciprocates her glowing admiration. They're drawn together as soul mates, and their love is dramatically contrasted with a subplot involving Benny's more conventionally beautiful friend Nan (Saffron Burrows), whose appetite for older men leads her into a misguided and ultimately tragic relationship. A betrayal by Jack sets the stage for potential heartbreak, but director Pat O'Connor prevents these carefully drawn characters from resorting to sappy melodrama. They have lessons to learn about life and love, and Circle of Friends teaches those lessons with grace, humor, and heartfelt sincerity. --Jeff Shannon

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