Take a few wacky folks from the British Isles, a plot about money and friendship, and accents so thick you couldn't cut them with a steak knife, then mix them all together. If we're lucky, we get a charming, offbeat comedy like The Full Monty or Waking Ned Devine. If we're not quite as fortunate, it's Anjelica Huston's less-compelling feature film debut, Agnes Browne. Huston who also stars as the title character has crafted a movie that, while sweet and sometimes funny, never quite gets underneath the viewer's skin. Yes, we feel sorry for Agnes, a widow in 1960s Ireland with seven children who scrimps and saves and borrows from a cruel neighborhood crook/loan shark to make ends meet after her husband's untimely death, but she never seems all that badly off. A single mom who manages to spend a Saturday evening in the pub with her best friend (Marion O'Dwyer) and gets ogled by the neighborhood's hunky new French baker Pierre (Arno Chevrier) is hardly a figure of tragedy, even if she does have to forego buying a coveted ticket to the Tom Jones concert to conserve funds. Yes, Agnes is supposed to be feisty, resourceful, and resilient, but casting her in a slightly more pitiful light might have made rooting for her a more convincing cause. As it is, the film (especially in the beginning) tends to play like a series of vignettes some funny and some serious that don't flow together very well or give the characters much depth. It's not until the story's focus settles on Agnes' friendship with O'Dwyer that we get scenes that feel long enough to really explore the human connections that are supposed to form the core of the film. And the ending! Not to give anything away, but the '80s sitcom "The Facts of Life" used the same plot twist to better effect. All that said, Agnes Browne which is based on Brendan O'Carroll's novel The Mammy does have its moments. Agnes' date with Pierre, which lets her be a woman instead of a mother fighting poverty, is sweetly romantic, and the way Huston portrays the Browne family's close-yet-volatile relationship is honest and occasionally touching. As for humor, all of the best quips were in the ads and trailers, but rest assured there's more than enough "sassy Irish woman" wit in the script to go around. The DVD transfer (1.78:1 widescreen or 1.33:1 standard) is clear, and the Dolby 2.0 Surround audio is fine (though you might have trouble understanding some of the dialogue due to the actors' thick Irish accents.) The disc's only features are scene selection, bios/filmographies for Huston and O'Dwyer, the theatrical trailer, and English, French, and Spanish subtitles. A four-page color booklet includes a short article on the making of the film, as well as a few still pictures. Keep-case.
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