Review: Irish eyes aren't smiling at 'This is My Father'
June 1, 1999
By Reviewer Paul Tatara
(CNN) -- Why is it that you can't set a movie in the rolling fields of pre-war Ireland without the story diving head-first into melodrama the minute two brogue-spouting sweethearts decide to lock lips? Writer/director Paul Quinn's "This is My Father," a rather mundane doomed-lovers tale starring his brother Aidan, is just the latest installment in this mini-genre.
The gorgeous young lass with the bicycle goes at it in a hayloft with the lonely-but-robust farmer, only to have the townspeople (and/or the priest) ridicule them into their own private hell before the last reel unspools. You've certainly seen it before, and probably more than once if you're the type who manages to stay awake through the entire late show.
This is a real family affair for the Quinns -- brother Declan also executive produced -- and you can sense that the project was close to their hearts. I'd be willing to bet that there's some actual family history being thrown on the screen here.
Unfortunately, the movie wasn't made solely for the Quinn lineage. The narrative's twists and turns leave little room for honest surprise. But the biggest problem is a flashback framing device that adds nothing to the proceedings. OK, that's not completely true. It does include an unexpected (and quite welcome) appearance by James Caan, though he's hardly given anything to do with his screen time.
Too long in the set-up
Caan plays Kieran Johnson, an Aurora, Illinois high school English teacher who's just about had it with his disrespectful, unfocused students. Since the death of his beloved wife, Kieran has plunged into a depression that's threatening to ruin him. His job is bad enough, but he also has to deal with an overworked sister (Susan Almgren), who berates him for never helping out with his stroke victim mother (Francoise Graton, who, true to the character, just sits there and stares).
Then, as the cherry on top of this mountain of anguish, we get the sister's snotty son (Jacob Tierney), the requisite slump-shouldered adolescent with an attitude.
Quinn wallows in this brood's dysfunction for the first 25 minutes of the film, and that's too long when you're dealing with little more than a set-up to the real story. Once the flashbacks to 1930s Ireland kick into gear, you hardly remember that you were ever in Aurora, Illinois.
Kieran eventually stumbles upon a photograph of his mother when she was still a young Irish lass with a bicycle. She's posing with a strapping farmer who may or may not be Kieran's never-seen father. That's Caan's cue to fly out to Ireland (with the bitchy nephew in tow) to see if dear old Dad still exists.
Well, he doesn't. But Kieran still gets to hear from one of the locals about the tragic courtship that his mother experienced back when the fields were green and the sky was blue and everybody rolled their r's with religious fervor.
Carrying weight of the world, a heavy heart
Brother Aidan plays the young Dad (also named Kieran), and his performance is the best reason to see the movie. He's chunkier these days than you expect him to be, but the extra weight serves the character well. He seems to be lugging his heavy heart around with him, even as he does his chores. The poor farmer, who still lives with his adopted parents, is a man of the land. But he'd love to have something in his life besides that land.
That something appears in the form of Fiona (Moya Farrelly), the glowing, teen-age version of the stroke victim grandma that we met at the beginning of the film. Fiona's alcoholic mother (Gina Moxley) doesn't like Kieran, Sr. one little bit.
Kieran's lifelong decency is the first thing that everybody ignores when he takes up with a girl who's half his age; the villagers as a whole are a great deal less than understanding. Mom does everything she can to end the affair, but she's small potatoes (if you'll pardon the famine joke) compared to the hellfire that gets breathed on the couple by the heads of the church.
The best sequence is when Stephen Rea shows up as a lecherous priest who flies into a virtual steroid rage when dealing with these "sinners." He delivers a brass-tacks sermon that leaves the congregation quaking in their Sunday best, but his crowning moment is when he literally chases one man out of the confessional, shouting, "Don't even think about coming back to this church until you stop doing that!!" No "three Hail Mary's and a rosary" for this guy. Rea is unexpectedly hilarious, especially when you consider the rather morose tone of the rest of the movie.
The story line between Quinn and Farrelly doesn't develop so much as it enters an inexorable downward spiral. There are some tears to be shed at the end, but you can see them coming after about the first hour.
The rest feels oddly padded out, especially a couple of scenes with John Cusack as an American pilot who lands his small airplane on the beach one day looking to play some football. The only reason this happens is so Cusack can take that all-important photograph of the couple that sets the plot into motion years later. The pilot just conveniently drops out of the sky.
That's not how life usually works, and with the overriding tone of the movie being downbeat realism, it just doesn't play. Then again, neither does some of the downbeat realism.
You might get a decent cry-and-sigh out "This is My Father" when it hits the video store. It's not awful, just slight. There's a sex scene, sexual discussion, and a bit of violence. Look for Colm Meany and Brendan Gleeson, evidently the only two Irish actors on earth besides Stephen Rea. In a nod towards old-fashioned virtue, there's not a single computer-generated character in "This is My Father." Rated R. 119 minutes.
Meet Aidan Quinn's 'Father,' brothers and sister
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