Reviewed by: Brett Willis
2 hr. 25 min.
Year of Release:
January 21, 2000
Based on Frank McCourt’s 1996 autobiographical memoir of the same name, this film is a sad slice-of-life in Depression and WWII Ireland. While it certainly deserves its R rating, it’s a serious (non-exploitative) film with a very realistic “feel.”
In 1935, after the death of one of their children, Frankie McCourt’s impoverished parents are persuaded by their extended family to take the children and move from New York back to Ireland. Frankie recalls: “I was the only Irish kid who waved good-bye rather than hello to the Statue of Liberty.” Back home in Limerick, things aren’t any better. The dampness and filthy living conditions bring many slum dwellers death from typhoid fever, consumption (tuberculosis) and other diseases. Frankie’s father has a hard time getting a job (he’s discriminated against because he’s a Scotch-Irish Protestant); and when he does find work he drinks up his first paycheck, misses his next shift and is fired. As the oldest child, Frankie is thrust into a “man of the house” role including hard work at about age 10 to help support the family. (Three different actors play Frankie as he ages from 5 to 16.) The role of the Roman Catholic Church in Irish family life is explored from many angles.
I found the story emotionally engaging throughout and consider it worth seeing (for mature audiences) on its own merits as well as to remind us how much we have to be thankful for. My own childhood was nowhere near as tragic as Frankie’s, but I could identify with some aspects of being raised poor (no indoor plumbing; being laughed at by other kids because of my funny shoes) and with many of the little-boy adventures.
Content warnings: There’s not much misuse of the Lord’s name, since most of the characters are practicing Catholics; but gutter language is strong in spots, although some is hard to catch if you’re not used to the Irish accent. Many of the Ten Commandments and their derivatives are broken repeatedly; there’s dishonor of father and mother (including violence), adultery (and other fornication), stealing, covetousness, lying, neglect of family responsibilities. Alcoholism is shown prominently, but is portrayed as evil. Frankie and his friends are caught spying on naked girls (frontal nudity visible), and are later shown engaged in group masturbation (discreet camera angles). One of Frankie’s schoolteachers openly wishes for a German victory in WWII as retribution for 800 years of oppression of Ireland by the English. Some of Frankie’s relatives have a fanatical hatred of anything Protestant-including Frankie’s “northern-texture” hair. When Frankie throws up shortly after his first Communion, his grandmother pesters the priest with detailed questions about the correct way to wash God out of her back yard. These are just a few of the items that would offend some or all viewers; there are many more. I’m trying to give a fair warning without revealing the major storylines.
Normally I wouldn’t recommend a film with this amount of questionable material; but for mature adults it’s a well-done (though unnecessarily graphic) treatment of a real-life story. Although the author approved this film, those who’ve read his book may be disappointed by any artistic-license changes to the story (I’ve only skimmed the book, so I have no opinion).