This Is My Father
1999, R, 120 min. Directed by Paul Quinn. Starring Aidan Quinn, James Caan, Stephen Rea, John Cusack, Moya Farrelly, Jacob Tierney, Colm Meaney, Moira Deady, Susan Almgren, Pauline Hutton.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 18, 1999
Now I know why my father was so insistent I carry a handkerchief on my person at all times. This Quinn family production (brother Declan Quinn tackles the cinematography chores, Paul directs, and Aidan co-stars) is as weepy a number as you're likely to see this summer, a heartbreaker of the first order and also a sterling example of what poor, downtrodden brother Aidan can do when he finally gets his hands on a decent script. Forget clinkers like Crusoe, Benny & Joon, and Avalon, this is what fans of the underutilized actor have been waiting for since his Reckless debut 17 years ago. A long wait, sure, but sweeter for it, all the same. Chicago high school teacher Kieran Johnson's (Caan) life is a mess: His elderly mother Fiona is vegetating in the upstairs bedroom of his divorcée sister (Almgren); his nephew, Jack (Tierney), is edging toward reform-school, and his own laborings as an educator earn little more than classroom taunts and barbs. While lecturing Jack in the family garage, Kieran accidentally uncovers a moldering old photo of a happy young couple tucked into a book of Irish poems that was inscribed, apparently, to his namesake, the father he never knew. Taking this as a sign (as much as Caan the actor can be said to take anything as a sign), he flies off to old Ireland with Jack in tow to uncover the mystery of this other Kieran. Once there, he is told the sorrowful tale of his sire by a B&B manager (Deady), and the film flashes back to 1939. It's then and there that Kieran O'Day (Quinn), a “poorhouse bastard” with a shambling gait and a tree-stump neck that would do Henry Rollins proud, meets upper-crust lassie Fiona Flynn, who's been recently tossed out of boarding school for offending the nuns. After taking in a local dance during which a tipsy Kieran chivalrously defends the lusty Fiona after a pair of low-life twins accost her, the pair begin toppling down the slippery slope of love. Naturally, everyone else in the village is dead set against the romance, citing everything from moral turpitude (Rea as the libidinous village priest is especially, ah, charming) to Kieran's financial nonexistence (by day he tills the soil outside his foster parents' house). There are bright spots in this admittedly dreary Irish tragedy, though. The always reliable John Cusack shows up as a photographer for Life magazine, zipping in on a single-seater Cessna and helping the young lovers woo each other on a starlit beach, while Meaney, back in the real world, is interesting as the mincing innkeeper. As Kieran's history is told over the course of several afternoons, young Jack strikes up a friendship with a forward-thinking young village flirt. And Caan, stoic though he may be (it's still difficult to shake the image of Rollerball's Jonathan E. after all these years) grapples with emotions. The modern-day bracketing works only half as well as the flashbacks, unfortunately. Quinn is astounding, though, as young Kieran, and Farrelly has more spark to her than a thousand Zippos. Altogether winning in a teary-eyed sort of way (Declan Quinn's cinematography is nothing short of brilliant), this is a multi-handkerchief affair, and a grand return to form for Quinn brother Aidan.