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IN SHORT: Major killer chick flick. Single men over 30 beware -- it'll get you, too.. [Rated [R], 120 minutes]
Cranky saw This Is My Father back in January, when the winter storms were blowing in and he was really feeling his age; muscles in spasm, nerves shrieking and the weight of his pathetic lonely life as a movie critic bearing down on stooped shoulders. Us old guys build very thick armor to deal with that and we don't like it when that armor cracks, even a little. If you had been in the same screening room as Cranky, watching Paul Quinn's This Is My Father you would have heard the armor crack and go thud against the thickly carpeted floor. Not just mine. When the lights went up every eye in the house, male or female, was red. This Is My Father was, at the time, the saddest flick Cranky had seen all year. But that was January. Now it's May and, on second view, Cranky sniffled a lot.
Slow to play out and written with extreme care, This Is My Father is a flick that will sneak up on you, hook into what little emotional raw nerves may be left buried in your psyche and leave you lying in a lump on the floor. While there is a serious romantic chick flick element to the majority of the story, for the guys who have ever had trouble with their dads, well, you're gonna get nailed, too.
We begin with Kieran Johnson (James Caan), a widowed and quite miserable high school history teacher whose students are predominantly comprised of jailbirds in the making. His mother is invalid and speechless from a stroke. His sister is divorced and she has little time or energy to allow her to pay attention to son Jack (Jacob Tierney), who is doing a quick crash and burn at school. A confrontation between the men leads to the discovery of an old photograph, perhaps a picture of the father Kieran never knew, and a trip to Ireland to search out the family roots.
Predominantly told in flashback, This Is My Father is set in 1939, a time close enough to be termed modern yet far enough away in terms of values and technology to be positively ancient. Tenant farmers work the lands, in this case for a rich widow named Flynn (Gina Moxley). Kieran O'Day (Aidan Quinn), a "poorhouse bastard" works for one of these farmers. He's pushing 30, is very quiet and very alone. Returning to town is the widow's 16-year old daughter Fiona (Moya Farrelly), who's been booted out of school by the nuns. Fiona's personality bursts like fireworks in the tiny community and, while the film doesn't go overboard about it, the citizens of this town are quite under the control of the Catholic Church, when they're not running a'feared of Gypsy curses. Threats of Hell hang over their heads. Duty to the Church supersedes everything else. It is not a place for young love to bloom. But it does, and boy does it get stomped on good.
The love between Kieran and Fiona violates a number of community rules. The age gap is quite severe. The income and social class differences come next. That Kieran himself is an orphaned, born out of wedlock boy and that Fiona's mother is a vindictive, nasty drunk doesn't help either. The couple must find ways to communicate, to date, to be alone. Love will win out, and but the resolution is not what you'd expect.
A couple of superb cameo performances keep the story from being a total downer. John Cusack literally drops in from the skies as a photographer from Life Magazine. Stephen Rea is a priest summoned to interrogate the male population about their sexual activities. In modern time, Colm Meany swishes about as the owner of the bed and breakfast in which Kiernan and Jack stay. Newcomer Moya Farrelly as Fiona is, well, Cranky's always had a thing for Irish girls. That she is so delightful to watch only makes the eventual outcome the more painful.
Jack finds himself a girl too, but I'll leave that to your movie going pleasure.
Truth is, were Cranky a teenboy, watching This Is My Father would have had him writhing in pain and sticking fingers down his throat, swearing to find a flick to make his date just as miserable as he would have been. But Cranky's not a teenboy. While the flashback story is certain to cue the wetworks in an ex-femme friend of mine, the agony of James Caan's character, by the time his story arc ended, shredded Cranky's heart like iceberg lettuce. No tears, but plenty of sniffling and you know how I hate that.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to This Is My Father, he would have paid...
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