It's an Alan Parker-directed study on the childhood of a '30s and '40s Irish boy who was raised by an alcoholic father and depressed mother in a disease, if not death-ridden environment with no money or food, so you know that this film ought to be delightful. Shoot, just hearing Alan Parker's name, alone, disturbed me a smidge, and this film's poster really isn't helping all that much. I know that this story is one of getting by, but it's a bit hard to see the livliness in the film concept, unless of course you consider the film's release date as a part of the conceptful layout of things, because the final product was released on the usually ever so delightful day of Christmas. If that is supposed to be some kind of sickly ironic joke, then it's hilarious, and yet, even then, the film came out right before Y2K was expected to happen, and the joke - if there ever was one - turned on the people who funded this whole opus, because people's lack of interest in a disturbing drama such as this is reflected by the box office, so there wasn't really a whole lot of laughing going on when this film came out. Okay, seriously though, all joking aside, this film isn't all that depressing, and certainly has its wits about it at times, though you definately couldn't tell from, of course, that blasted poster of little Frank McCourt, broken and depressed-looking, staring almost angrily into the pit of your ostensibly well-fed soul (Well, at least it's not dead-cold-eyed Emily Watson staring into your soul), which isn't to say that you should all that different of a face on Michael Legge nowadays, as I'd imagine he's struggling to get some eating money. If your first question in regards to what I just said about Legge is, "Who?", rather than, "Why?", then you know why, which is a shame, because the boy can act and needs some recognition, as sure as this film needs to be better. Granted, I still liked this film just fine, yet make no mistake, it is hardly "starved" of shortcomings.
Rich with potential depth, this film finds its worthy premise undercut largely by many a pacing issue, such as hurrying, for although the film generally, as I'll touch more upon later, outstays its welcome, there are still many an occasion in which key development, flesh-out and overall exposition is ever so unfortunately glossed over, if not just plain rather awkwardly slam-banged in, thus depth within the story finds itself diluted. Much too much finds itself hurried, often before we even begin to have a chance to truly absorb the story's depth, and that is indeed something that any given film cannot afford to let happen, much less a film that takes on as much material as this film takes on. Driven more by varying misadventures than layers behind a central point, this story is a highly episodic one that follows the diverse happenings that help in shaping Frank McCourt, which would work just fine and all, yet with exposition being so lacking, you neither absorb enough depth from the many, many tales behind a central story, nor gets a full grip on the organic flow between the various stories, thus the film is rendered tremendously uneven whenever it switches stories on us, and considering that this film is built on story switching, narrative structure is thrown so far off that it finds itself obscured, which of course leaves plot to essentially dissipate. The film is too all over the place to flow and comes off as too uneven to have a central aim or plot, yet not so uneven that you don't see enough similarities in each little story for the film to comes off as, if nothing else, exceedingly repetitious, with such limited dynamicity to its stories that the film comes out, not simply wandering aimlessly, but wandering aimlessly in circles, which would be more forgivable if it wasn't for this film's running just too darn long. Clocking in at two-and-a-half hours, this adaptation of Frank McCourt's layered memoirs seems adequate enough in length to fully absorb what it needs to with little excess fat, yet in the long run, even with all of the hurryings and under-exposition, the film still outstays its welcome, going bloated by the aforementioned over-episodicity and repetition, as well as other forms of consistent excessiveness that give you more time to focus on the structural missteps than depths of this worthy story. The film is just so messily structured and unevenly paced, yet at least keeps consistent with one atmospheric pacing: slowness, which, even then, isn't found throughout the film, and isn't really all that intense to begin with, yet remains the topper to the heap of missteps that bite away at this oh so promising project's bite until the final product is left tattered and underwhelming, though still intact enough to stay alive. I wish I could say that the film flows more effectively, or that it even flows all that much to begin with, yet for every bump in the road, there is a glimmer of hope that proves bright enough to get you by, or at least your aesthetic side.
The film isn't quite as visually striking as I had hoped, yet Michael Seresin's photographic tastes remain sharp, with a kind of neatly old fashion texturing and lighting, married with more striking contemporaneous grit that both reflects thematic griminess and renders the film handsome. Again, the film's visual style isn't quite as striking as I make it sound, yet it has its near-breathtaking moments to break up consistent sharpness that both appeals your aesthetic side and supplements what effective thematic depth there is within the film, which is what you can say about the score work, or at least when it's actually used, for although the legendary John Williams' score feels rather underused, as well as occasionally rather formulaic, it engages every time it arrives by gracefully drawing from the atmosphere and dramatic depths, to where you're not only left with quite a few good tunes, but further breath of life into the film's tonal depths, which is something that this story seriously needs. Frank McCourt's young life was one of unpalatable hardship and crushing emotional struggle, yet ambition, humanity and overall hope still remained prominent enough to make McCourt's story a powerfully inspiring one that deserves to be presented better, yet still remains so strong that you'd be hard pressed to not be engaged by this film to some degree, based on the premise alone, even with all of the shortcomings in execution, and it helps that when this film certainly isn't without its share of moments in which it does, in fact, get things right. Laura Jones' screenplay is nothing short of consistently faulty in its structuring of McCourt's should-be comfortably-told tale, and Alan Parker's direction all too often fails to capture the full weight of the worthy subject matter, yet both Jones and Parker keep consistent in delivering enough of a certain degree of intrigue to keep you going, and when true inspiration arrives for both Jones and Parker, the film becomes particularly engaging, with striking resonance that both gives you a taste of what this film could have been and wraps things up rather comfortably, through all of the missteps, in order to assist in the film's going saved. Visual and musical artistry have only so much material, and the valuable story goes betrayed by Laura Jones' and Alan Parker's flawed offscreen performances, yet there's no denying the power of the premise, nor is there any denying that the story's execution, while considerably flawed, goes saved by the playing up of the worth waiting for strengths in the writing and direction, as well as by a not so faulty major department for the film: the acting department, because although acting material goes restrained with much of the dramatic depth, most every character is made colorful by the inspired performances behind them, with standouts including the Emily Watson as the struggling and emotionally unstable mother and Robert Carlyle as the regretful and flawed yet loving family man. Of course, once Michael Legge finally arrives to claim the lead role position, he owns the show, portraying the livliness of a young man during his coming of age with charm, and the depths of an ambitious and struggling spirit with moving emotional range and heavy layers that, when they need to most, define Frank McCourt with as much as of the sharpness that should have been found in the rest of the film. Yes people, complaints still stand firm, and I hate that, as this is a worthy project that deserves batter, yet at the end of the day, what the story ultimately recieves in execution has enough artistry and inspiration to it to give the final product enough depth to get by, even with the many shortcomings.
Bottom line, the worthy and very human story goes plagued by slam-banged, or at least hurried exposition that both dilutes resonant bite and emphasizes the inorganic and exceedingly non-flow of the overwhelmingly episodic story structure that, with the help of excessive length and slowness, feels limp enough for the final product to fall both leaps and bounds short of potential and behind genuine goodness by its own right, yet not so far behind that you're not kept going by Michael Seresin's handsomely gritty photography and John Williams' elegant score, both of which supplement color in the execution of the very worthy story that is often betrayed by writing and directorial missteps, yet is about as often brought to life enough by both what is done right by writer Laura Jones and director Alan Parker and a myriad of engaging performances - particularly those of Emily Watson, Robert Carlyle and eventual leading man Michael Legge - to make "Angela's Ashes" a decent dramatic effort, even if it is one that still deserves better.
2.5/5 - Fair