Angela's Ashes [1999]

Because Frank McCourt's bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir Angela's Ashes was dearly embraced by millions of readers, it was perhaps inevitable that Alan Parker's film version would prove somewhat disappointing. McCourt's book is blessed with subtleties of language and detailed observation that do not easily lend themselves to screen interpretation, and Parker's film suffers from an overly literal, reverently somber approach that lacks the cumulative emotions of McCourt's account of impoverished youth in Ireland. And where McCourt was able to leaven his family's suffering with tenacious humor and fighting Irish spirit, Parker's film provides precious little uplift in the course of 145 minutes. The film is by no means an artistic failure. While admirably avoiding sentiment, Parker is nearly peerless in his direction of children, and the three actors playing Frank at ages 7, 11, and 15 are uniformly superb. As photographed by Michael Seresin, the re-created lanes of Limerick, Ireland are almost painfully authentic in the cold, gray dampness that permeates nearly every scene. (This is surely one of the wettest films ever made.) As the McCourt parents--chronically depressed Angela and recklessly drunken Malachy--Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle successfully bypass the pitfalls of melodrama in a film that could have wallowed in bathos. And while Parker's anecdotal approach falls short in conveying the fullness of McCourt's experience (the director fared better with the Irish rockers of The Commitments), Angela's Ashes captures a specific time and place with vivid force, remaining loyal to the spirit of Frank McCourt's beloved tale of survival. --Jeff Shannon

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