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Angela's Ashes

Rated [R], 145 minutes
Starring Emily Watson, Robert Carlyle
Screenplay by Laura Jones and Alan Parker
Based on the book by Frank McCourt
Directed by Alan Parker

As always, we don't compare to Source Material. Sometimes Cranky can tell when a movie has been adapted from a great book, because I get a feeling that something is missing from the movie. Most of the time that happens in movies where there are holes in the plot or character development. The exception is when the onscreen story is so intriguing that you wonder what happens next, which is the case with Laura Jones and Alan Parker's adaptation of Frank McCourt's autobiography "Angela's Ashes".

For the McCourt Family, the Promise of America was a failed one. Having arrived in the midst of the Great Depression, Malachy (Robert Carlyle) is just another one of millions of unemployed head of households. His wife Angela (Emily Watson) has her hands full with the three boys she climbed off the boat with and, as this flick starts, the family is blessed by the arrival of their first girl. By the time this flick is, oh, maybe half an hour old, if you're not thanking whatever Higher Power there is that you live in America in the present day, you should be -- the depths of this family's poverty is crushing and the support systems we have today didn't exist back then.

Back then, there was only a kindly upstair neighbor to help. When the newborn Margaret Mary dies, the Irish shores look a lot greener than the streets of Brooklyn. So back the family goes Limerick to find the situation there as wretched as when they left. Angela's family is still ticked off that she married a man from the North; the Catholic-Protestant troubles are always simmering underneath this story. Malachy has no better luck finding work than he did in the States, and most of the dole money never makes its way past the bar with the Statue of Liberty above its door. Angela fills her surviving kidlet's heads with fanciful ideas. The flooded first floor of their hovel is the damp and awful Ireland. Their tiny two rooms above are the warm and toasty Italy. It's an illusion that is embraced by the kids 'cuz it's the best that mom can do.

This is not a story making light of poverty. When seen from a kid's eye view (oldest son Frank narrates the movie) there's a lot of humor to be found when you don't know how bad off things really are. Frank is played by three actors (Joe Breen, Ciaren Owens and Michael Legge), screen aging from 5 to 15. As he grows, Frank grows world weary before his time. Splendid performances by Watson and Carlyle keep this flick from approaching any kind of stereotype and, as I wrote up top, I want more.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Angela's Ashes, he would have paid...


For the life of me, though, I can't explain why this thing is called Angela's Ashes. That must be one of those things that was left in the book.

Click to buy the book by Frank McCourt
Click to buy films by Alan Parker
Click to buy films starring Emily Watson
Click to buy films starring Robert Carlyle

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