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Irish Springs

[whitespace] This Is My Father
Hay Day: Moya Farrelly and Aidan Quinn are ill-fated Irish lovers in 'This Is My Father.

A man tracks his family's roots in 'This Is My Father'

By Heather Zimmerman

WITH This Is My Father, actor Aidan Quinn and his brothers, Paul and Declan Quinn, have made a family project out of telling the story of another family. Written and directed by Paul, photographed by Declan and starring Aidan, the collaborative drama takes as inspiration the Quinns' Irish heritage in the form of an Irish-American man searching for his roots. Chicago high school teacher Kieran Johnson (James Caan) visits his mother's rural hometown in Ireland to gather information about his long-lost father. At the behest of his sister, who feels overburdened caring for their ailing mother, Kieran takes along her teenage son, Jack (Jacob Tierney). In Ireland, an old local woman recounts for Kieran the story of his parents, a love affair made for high tragedy but nevertheless a tale that, surprisingly, proves far more absorbing than the present-day plot that frames it.

The film flashes back to the town in 1939, where "poorhouse bastard" Kieran O'Dea (Aidan Quinn) farms the land of his foster parents, who are tenants of the town battle-ax, the widow Flynn (Gina Moxley). The widow's rambunctious daughter, Fiona (Moya Farrelly), returns early from boarding school and starts eyeing Kieran romantically. In this small village, Fiona's free-spiritedness makes her as socially suspect as Kieran's poverty makes him, so it's hardly a surprise when the two outcasts begin courting--and even less of one when the townspeople disapprove of the romance between Fiona and the older, much poorer Kieran. Violently opposed to the match is the status-obsessed Flynn, who grows increasingly rash with the onset of injury-provoking clumsiness she believes is the result of a neighbor's curse but which is more likely caused by her alcoholism.

Ominous curses are purported to play a pivotal role in the lovers' fate, as well as in the present-day unhappiness of the younger Kieran and his sister, but it's a theme that goes largely unexplained. As evidenced by the widow, the townspeople "curse" themselves, with little assistance from the supernatural. In fact, the most formidable foe of Kieran's and Fiona's romance is religious extremism. Good old human zealotry in the name of God, most notably that of the widow and of a visiting priest (Stephen Rea, channeling his usual intensity into a subtly hilarious cameo), fuels the couple's doom.

Paul's script fleshes out the characters of the past with a richness that's lacking in their modern-day counterparts, with the result that the scenes from the present intrude on rather than complement those from the past. Though the central romance is predictable, the performances make it a delight. Aidan is touching as the luckless Kieran; Farrelly is a complete natural as Fiona. Moxley is perfectly vicious as the widow, while Caan does what he can in his underwritten role. The character of Jack appears to exist solely to flirt with two Irish schoolgirls, in something of a non sequitur to the already shaky present-day plot. Don't expect any illumination of Irish culture in This Is My Father; in his quest abroad, the younger Kieran doesn't really learn what it means to be of Irish descent so much as he discovers his family's story--one that could have taken place anywhere, since love, fundamentalism and prejudice are pretty much universal. More than anything, even without a fairy-tale ending, This Is My Father is a well-acted and engrossing storybook romance.

This Is My Father (R; 120 min.), directed and written by Paul Quinn, photographed by Declan Quinn and starring Aidan Quinn, James Caan and Stephen Rea.

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From the June 3-9, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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