Friday December 3, 1999
If Cinderella lived in Dublin, reared seven children and found her Prince Charming in the guise of a doughy French baker, she might resemble Agnes Browne.
There is a lovely Cinderella moment in "Agnes Browne," Anjelica Huston's unabashedly moist film adaptation of an Irish bestseller by Brendan O'Carroll. A frumpy and nurturing produce vendor with a life-devouring smile, Agnes (Huston) is going out on her first date since the untimely death of her husband. Beautified by her girlfriends and bedecked in a glamorous blue gown financed by her seven devoted children, she steps into the living room to show off the results. As the family oohs and aahs, we purr our approval in silence. You go, girl.
It's high corn, and "Agnes Browne" boasts a bumper crop of such moments. A working-class fairy tale with a little "Beaches" and Dickens thrown in for seasoning, "Agnes Browne" wears its ebullient heart on its sleeve, bandanna, mohair scarf and just about everything else in sight.
Stoically marching down the crowded market streets the day her husband dies, Agnes is greeted with condolences by what seems to be half of Dublin. It's 1967 and life is tight, between the funeral, the kid's communion and the heavy interest payments for the smarmy neighborhood loan shark. But Agnes gets by with the unstinting support of the neighborhood; her kids; her chum Marion (Marion O'Dwyer), who is secretly dying of breast cancer; and the courtly attentions of a French baker with Gerard Depardieu hunk appeal (Arno Chevrier).
After an irritatingly artificial opening scene in which Agnes is rebuffed by a nasty pension clerk, "Agnes Browne" settles in for a warming succession of tableaux that celebrate the virtues of family, friendship and community. The humor is whimsical to a fault (Agnes and Marion commiserate over their sex lives and what it feels like to have an "organism") and the plot points are thuddingly predictable: This is the kind of movie in which fiends will be foiled and all modest dreams will come true, whether they be a blue evening gown or tickets to a Tom Jones concert.
But Huston radiates an irresistible earth-mother glow that all but spills off the screen during a bawdy pub sing-along. She has such an unbridled affection for Agnes and her milieu that one is inclined to gloss over the flat-footed choices in her directing. Huston is a sucker for sentiment, and "Agnes Browne" is a sap's holiday. Those averse to easy tears should stay home and rent a Peter Greenaway movie.
Agnes Browne, 1999. R for language. October Films presents a Hell's Kitchen production, released by USA Films. Director Anjelica Huston. Producer Jim Sheridan, Arthur Lappin, Anjelica Huston, Greg Smith. Executive producers Morgan O'Sullivan, Tom Palmieri, Laurie Mansfield, Gerry Browne. Screenplay by John Goldsmith and Brendan O'Carroll based on O'Carroll's novel "The Mammy." Cinematographer Anthony B. Richmond. Editor Eva Gardos. Music Paddy Moloney. Costume designer Joan Bergin. Production designer David Brockhurst. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. Kate Winslet as Ruth Barron. Harvey Keitel as PJ Waters. Pam Grier as Carol. Julie Hamilton as Miriam Barron. Anjelica Huston as Agnes Browne. Marion O'Dwyer as Marion Monks. Ray Winstone as Mr. Billy. Arno Chevrier as Pierre.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times