Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Not-So-Gentle (Re)Viewer: Angela's Ashes (1999)

"When I look back on my childhood, I wonder how my brothers and I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood. The happy childhood is hardly worth telling. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood. And worse still is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."

The interesting thing about Alan Parker's adaptation of Angela's Ashes is that, while it manages to stay incredibly true to Frank McCourt's autobiography, it isn't nearly as depressing. 

The film is beautiful and the actors are awesome, so let me get that out of the way right now.  What I was particularly interested in was the difference in the general tone of the movie.  When reading the book, one of the things that struck me most was an overwhelming sense of isolation--Frankie was different than the kids around him, smart and driven in a way that his schoolmates didn't seem to be,  He started work at 13, a heavy burden for a prepubescent, and he left his mother's house to move in with an uncle who had no food to spare.  Maybe I was reading too much into it, but the whole book seemed to me to be incredibly lonely.

Not so with the film.  It captures the same too-many-kids, too-little-money problems, but Frankie is anything but alone.  Throughout the film, he is generally surrounded by friends or schoolmates, as well as his younger brother Malachy.  If anything, there are too many people rather than too few, and Frankie's differences make him stand out from the crowd rather than being singled out more than anyone else. 

With this tapestry as the background, then, the myriad deaths and illnesses appear more to be obstacles to be surmounted rather than God smacking Frank around, which was how I read it in the book.  The movie somehow manages to be about survival and is ultimately uplifting.   Add that to McCourt's lyrical language (which comes across superbly on film), and this is a movie I would highly recommend.  It was so good that now I want to go back and re-read the novel, something six months ago I would have sworn I would never do.

You should watch this.

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