Angela's Ashes

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 12th grade September 2001

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f Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt's Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, was nothing more than a factual retelling of the author's "miserable Irish Catholic childhood," Alan Parker's film version would be a perfectly suitable companion piece. And though the grimy, waterlogged photo-realism of Parker's depiction of Irish poverty is not unmoving, the book's beating heart is McCourt's exquisite, lyric prose and his humorous, resiliently hopeful outlook. Parker and screenwriter Laura Jones only sporadically sample that abundant wit and warmth, opting instead to focus on the more conventionally dramatic elements of McCourt's life story: death, drunkenness, duplicity, and, of course, the damp. (Who, after all, can forget the author's evocative five-word summation, "Above all "” we were wet"?) Any literary adaptation necessarily involves trimming, yet it's emblematic of the movie's shortcomings that the first cuts dispose of the family's Brooklyn back story (the better to whisk them away to Ireland as quickly as possible).

As the movie's dramatic focus must eventually settle on young Frank (convincingly played, in succession, by Joseph Breen, Ciaran Owens, and Michael Legge), these opening scenes offer an excellent opportunity to leaven the characters of father Malachy (Robert Carlyle) and mother Angela (Emily Watson). Instead, the McCourts have bid adieu to the Statue of Liberty almost as quickly as we meet them, and the nutshell snapshots provided us of Frank's parents "” dad's a shiftless drunk, mam can't cope "” tell us essentially as much about either character as we'll learn the rest of the way.

Siblings die, Malachy can't find work, Angela alternates between depression and peevish irritability, and the family is beset by everything from ravenous fleas to standing water in the entry level of their skid row flat. Parker specially constructed a slum to re-create the Limerick setting when no adequately impoverished Irish location could...