Adam’s Film Friday – A Review of Angela’s Ashes

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, the film I will be reviewing this week is Angela’s Ashes.  It is a film based on a memoir of the same name written by Frank McCourt.  Angela’s Ashes is a film of reflection, growing up, and ultimately what a family, in particular a mother, will go through to provide for a family. This movie provides the viewer with heartbreak and humor.

Beginning in 1936; young Frank McCourt (Joe Breen) is living in a tenement in Brooklyn New York, with his mother Angela (Emily Watson), father Malachy (Robert Carlyle), younger brothers Malachy (Shane Murry-Corcoran), and twin brothers Eugene and Oliver (Ben and Sam O’Gorman). They are all over the moon, having recently welcomed a baby sister, Margaret, to the family. Unfortunately their happiness doesn’t last long, as a few days later Margaret dies.  Broke and unable to sustain a life in New York, the McCourt’s move back to Limerick, Ireland, near Angela’s mother, sister, and brother in law. Life in Ireland however is not much better. Malachy, the dad, is extremely prideful and looks down upon begging or asking for help.  Any money he gets from the “dole” is used to buy himself alcohol, furthering their financial troubles.  Tragedy again strikes when Oliver dies, followed shortly by his twin brother Eugene.  After the boy’s deaths, Malachy’s drinking becomes heavier and heavier.  By the grace of God, two more children are born into the family, Michael and Alfie.  Malachy understands that there are no jobs left in Ireland, and leaves to work in a factory in England, manufacturing materials for World War II.  Angela and the boys think that everything will be ok now, but are incredibly crestfallen when Malachy doesn’t send back any money. He returns on Christmas Eve, only to leave again the next day, this time forever. As the story progresses, the movie shows how the family provides for itself and how they carry on with their lives after their fathers deserts them. 

One of the highlights of the movie for me was the performance of Joe Breen, who plays Frank from the ages of 5 to 10.  Breen was a natural on screen, stealing any scene he was in.  He has such an honest quality about him that truly showed the innocence of his character at that age. At his age I am not sure if he was really able to comprehend how exceptionally poor his family was or whether his father was an alcoholic.  As Frank grows up, he loses his naivety and understands the grave nature of the problems his family is in. This is when the sadness of the movie was most profound for me. As I was watching the movie, it felt as if the first part was truly told through the eyes of a child as there was more humor, despite the situation. I also enjoyed Frank’s interaction with Malachy, the dad (Carlyle). I wanted the character of Malachy to have a different outcome.  I wanted him to turn his life around and provide for his family, and I think it was because of how Robert Carlyle portrayed the character that I felt this way. He gave the character charisma and charm, that as a viewer made it hard to see his character go down the destructive path.

I would give the movie Angela’s Ashes my first five out five stars. The movie was brilliantly written, every role perfectly cast, and lastly beautifully filmed. Every scene had really interesting shots and truly showed the despair of the family. The movie will break your heart, but really get you thinking, that if you had to, what would you sacrifice or what would you do to provide for your family?

Like always, I will end my review with a question: what will you remember about your childhood? When you look back on that time in your life, will it be all good memories?  Or will it include some tough times? After viewing this movie and possibly reading the memoir, you will find yourself pondering your childhood with a little more thought.

5 out of 5 Stars

Angela’s Ashes
Paramount Pictures (1999)
R, 145 Minutes
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