|This Is My Father
|In the last few years, Ireland has enjoyed a resurgence as a setting for plays and films. Writers as diverse as
Brian Friel (Dancing at Lughnasa), Martin McDonagh (his Leenane stage trilogy) and Conor McPherson (The
Weir on stage, I Went Down on film) and directors like Pat O'Connor, Kirk Jones and Neil Jordan have mined
that country for its rich opportunities. Audiences have seen everything from the stereotypical Irishman (jovial,
hard-drinking) to the heroic (Jordan's Michael Collins) to the wrongfully accused (In the Name of the Father).
One almost might wonder what more can one say about the Irish and Ireland.
The answer, of course, is plenty. Following in the long line of gifted Irish storytellers is writer-director Paul
Quinn who makes a remarkable debut with This Is My Father. Using as a jumping off point a story his own
mother recounted about a couple in love in the 1930s, he has crafted a heartbreaking love story. Almost
novelistic in its approach, This Is My Father unfolds simultaneously in the present and the past. Chicago high
school teacher Kieran Johnson (James Caan) is struggling with a mid-life crisis, questioning his identity and
his life's choices. When he assigns his class to trace their lineage, he begins to wonder about his own
familial background: he has questions about a faded photograph of his mother and a young man who may
just be his own father. His aged mother has suffered a debilitating stroke and can no longer communicate.
Armed with just the picture and accompanied by his surly nephew he travels to Ireland to seek the truth. By
chance, the traveller mother of the owner of a bed and breakfast knew his mother and her story. Daily she
parcels out bits and pieces until like the patches in a quilt, a design emerges. This framing device is the set
up for the love story of Kieran O'Day (Aidan Quinn, the director's brother, a poor orphan adopted by farmers,
and Fiona Flynn (newcomer Moya Farrelly), the headstrong daughter of an imperious and wealthy widow
(Gina Moxley). Despite innumerable odds, including their age difference, the objections of the Widow Flynn
As a writer, Quinn doesn't break any new ground. Instead, he presents his characters without judgment or
stereotype. Like many of the great screen love stories, there is an inevitability to this one--but part of the
pleasures of This Is My Father is watching Aidan Quinn and Moya Farrelly. The pair possess "chemistry";
had they not, the film would have been derailed and been tedious. Instead, it is engrossing and moving.
Farrelly is a lovely actress who perfectly embodies a spirited young woman frustrated by the boundaries of
convention. Matching her and offering one of his best ever screen performances in Aidan Quinn. This actor
eschewed the leading man route early in his career (after Reckless and Desperately Seeking Susan where
he became established as the "hunk") in order to carve out a more interesting career as a character actor.
Here he is able to marry his leading man abilities (he hasn't offered this kind of screen heat in years) with his
thespian chops--creating a memorable character.
While not avoiding what have come to be stock characters in an Irish tale, Paul Quinn has written them with
grace and wit, so that even a fire-and-brimstone priest (Stephen Rea in an effective cameo) comes across
as three-dimensional. Some have objected to the pilot by John Cusack but his is a pivotal role for plot
purposes and while his presence is at first a little jarring, it makes sense upon later reflection. Paul Quinn
also shows a flair with actors--down to the last extra, the film has been cast with care and the main
performers hit the right notes. While James Caan's character functions more as a catalyst for the main event,
he provides a solid grounding presence. In supporting roles, Colm Meany is hysterical as the fey owner of a
bed and breakfast while Brendan Gleeson lends his considerable weight to the small role as the local
constable and Gina Moxley makes Fiona's mother more than a harridan--she offers glimpses of the woman
beneath the hardened exterior. Mention must also be made of the locations and the masterful photography of
Declan Quinn (brother of Aidan and Paul--sister Marian also has a small role in the film as the town gossip).
While there are some minor flaws, some of the present day material seems half-formed like a budding
romance between Caan's nephew and a local girl that has faint echoes of the 1930s love story and there are
some other strands that taper off rather than knitting comfortably into the tapestry of the film. Nevertheless,
This Is My Father is a wonderful movie, a timeless, well-acted story of passion and love.
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.