A scene from 'Agnes Browne'
Courtesy Photo
* stars 91 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, March 3, 2000 (SF)
Directed by Anjelica Huston

Starring Anjelica Huston, Marion O'Dwyer, Ray Winstone, Arno Chevrier, Niall O'Shea, Ciaran Owens & Tom Jones


Utterly forgettable. Destined for a couple 4 a.m. runs on pay cable, and then into the dust bin. Got a hankerin' for Irish hardship drama with a touch of suffering comedy? Try "Angela's Ashes."

   VIDEO RELEASE: 08/20/2000


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Hackneyed hardship tale 'Agnes Browne' bungled badly by director-star Anjelica Huston

By Rob Blackwelder

A foul-mouthed fairy tale version of every Irish Catholic hardship movie you might have ever seen, "Agnes Browne" is an honest effort at mixing familiar misfortune with barby comedy. But director and star Anjelica Huston bungles it so badly that the finished picture feels like a random series of moments in a lamentable widow's life, with no foundation or organic flow whatsoever.

Supporting her unruly brood of angels-with-dirty-faces offspring on nothing more than a few coppers from her farmer's market produce cart, Huston sports a shaky brogue and a cheeky spirit in the face of her family's hackneyed struggles.

Ostensibly a story of Irish tenement-class perseverance (a pub sing-along anyone?), the picture bounces around between disconnected scenes of generic adversity (sleeping several kids to a bed), trite trials of character (will the malevolent local loan shark addict one son to back alley card games?) and brief intervals of highly-scripted, life-affirming joy.

Agnes and her best friend Marion (Marion O'Dwyer) giggle like school girls as she's romanced by an imitation Gerard Depardieu (Arno Chevrier) who opens a French bakery on their market street. They talk a lot about sex and what it's like to have "one of them organisms" in bed. They face tragedy together as Marion dies of breast cancer.

A few of her seven kids -- not a one of whom speaks clearly enough to understand -- get one scene in which to define their characters (the troubled gambler, the drop-out-cum-carpenter's apprentice, the little girl who can't act). One of them even gets to say "It's me willy, ma! It's got hairs growing around it!"

But there's very little holding the flurry of haphazard episodes together.

Handsomely photographed in saturated reds, greens and grays "Agnes Browne" -- which is based on a hugely popular 1994 novel by Brendan O'Carroll called "The Mammy" -- doesn't do much right outside of its visual elements.

A sense of time (1967) and place (Dublin) come through in the dowdy fashions (head scarves, wool coats) and cobblestone streets, but in every other respect Huston's direction is wobbly at best. Even the low-born lifestyle fails to come across adequately, since this family's strife is too neatly packaged to be credible.

The aimlessness reaches a climax when 60-something crooner Tom Jones pops up in the last act as a kind of fairy godfather. Playing himself at 30 (yeah, right!), he gives a smitten Agnes free box seats to a concert. The incident has little to do with the rest of the movie, but it seems to be the only way Huston could draw the movie to a close.

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