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(1999) (Aidan Quinn, Moya Farrelly) (R)

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Drama: In search of information about the father he never knew, a disillusioned, present day school teacher travels to Ireland and learns about his dad and his turbulent life in the late 1930's.
Kieran Johnson (JAMES CAAN) is a widowed and childless Chicago schoolteacher who no longer connects with his students and is disillusioned about life overall. His extended family isn't doing that well either, with his mother (FRANÇOISE GRATON) still suffering from the effects of a stroke and his divorced sister, Betty (SUSAN ALMGREN) trying to deal with her troubled teenage son, Jack (JACOB TIERNEY).

When Kieran and Jack accidentally find a book of poems and an old photo of Kieran's mother arm in arm with a young man identified only as "Kieran," the schoolteacher suddenly becomes obsessed with learning about his roots. Hoping that the man in the photograph may be the father he never knew, Kieran and Jack travel to Ireland hoping to find some answers.

Once there, they stay at a bed and breakfast run by Seamus Kearney (COLM MEANEY) and his fortune-telling mother (MOIRA DEADY), the latter of whom takes us back to 1939 with her story about the scandalous love affair between Kieran's mother and father.

There, seventeen-year-old Fiona Flynn (MOYA FARRELLY), the daughter of the malcontent widow Flynn (GINA MOXLEY), has just been sent home from boarding school for being something of a free-spirited troublemaker. Seeing the handsome, but socially withdrawn Kieran O'Day (AIDAN QUINN) working on the farm run by his foster parents, the Maneys (DONAL DONNELLY & MARIA McDERMOTTROE), Fiona asks him to the local dance.

Despite the difference in their age and social status, the two soon fall in love, a fact that doesn't sit well with the widow or the town's church leader, Father Mooney (EAMONN MORRISSEY) and a visiting priest, Father Quinn (STEPHEN REA), none of whom approve of the love affair.

Things get worse when Mrs. Madigan (SHEILA FLITTON), an ornery neighbor woman, puts a curse on the widow. That eventually drives her to drink, become paranoid and set out to do whatever's necessary to put a stop to the scandalous love affair between her daughter and the older, dirt poor farmer.

Unless they're fans of someone in the cast, it's highly unlikely.
For a scene of sexuality and brief language.
  • JAMES CAAN plays a sullen, widowed and childless schoolteacher who goes looking for clues about the father he never knew. He drinks in a few scenes and cusses a bit.
  • JACOB TIERNEY plays his nephew who briefly uses strong profanity, is reportedly failing at his schoolwork (although we don't see that), and doesn't get along with his mother. When he meets some girls in Ireland, however, his temperament considerably improves.
  • MOYA FARRELLY plays the young and fiercely independent Fiona who falls in love with Kieran and eventually has sex with him, resulting in her getting pregnant.
  • GINA MOXLEY plays her embittered mother, a widow who becomes obsessed with a curse put on her and ends up drinking and trying to squash her daughter's romance.
  • AIDAN QUINN plays the simple farmhand who falls for Fiona, and despite being older than her and coming from a different social circle, has sex with her that gets him into big trouble. As a result, he takes drastic measures to "fix" the situation.


    OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
    A story about various family relationships told by a real-life family of three brothers, "This is My Father" is a well-made, old-fashioned and slow-moving affair. It also just so happens to be a compelling, moving and nothing short of heartfelt film that's sure to bring a tear to the eye of anyone who's ever been touched by tragic, but stirring romances and/or unresolved father/son stories.

    Marking the writing and directorial debut of Paul Quinn, brother to star Aidan and cinematographer Declan, this film may unfold at a leisurely and methodical pace, but that's all the better for it to slowly work its Irish magic over the audience.

    Playing out via a dual time-line story structure where an initial contemporary plot leads to and then alternates with the retelling of an older one that's seen in flashback -- such as was the case with the relatively recent "Friend Green Tomatoes" -- the film immediately gives out certain facts, but then slowly reveals others to hold the moviegoer's attention.

    As such, the present day story -- of a disillusioned schoolteacher searching for his roots while his troubled nephew finds teen love -- is decent but not terribly compelling and doesn't get as much screen time as its flashback alter ego. That earlier period-based story, however, is interesting simply because of the mystery surrounding the "whatever happened to" element regarding the schoolteacher's anonymous father.

    Although that's the initial hook, the film quietly proceeds to reel the audience ever closer to its main romance story and by the time you realize that, you're completely engrossed in the proceedings. Effectively using a variation of the old, star-crossed lovers plot, the film is sure to grab and touch the hearts of helpless romantics.

    It's also bound to affect all but the most jaded of cynics and even their eyes may be a bit moist by the time the end credits roll. That's not only due to the eventual outcome of the romance, but also that concerning the finally resolved father/son relationship. It's an emotional double whammy that's quite effective. Neither sappily melodramatic, too predictable and/or manipulative, the powerful ending -- and much of everything preceding it -- clearly showcases freshman Quinn as a worthy storytelling talent.

    That's not to say that the film is a completely weepy affair. Quinn has made sure to insert small bits of humor throughout the picture, including a running gag about the widow's reaction to an accident-inducing curse placed on her that leads to some funny bits and visual humor.

    As with any first-time effort, however, not everything is perfect. A subplot featuring the present day nephew's brief romantic flirtations with two Irish lasses, while pleasant enough, doesn't really do much for the story.

    A comedy-related bit featuring John Cusack ("Pushing Tin") as an American photographer who literally drops from out of nowhere into the film also feels a bit forced. While he's there to take the photo that later (or earlier, depending on how one looks at the plot) serves as a plot catalyst, his performance -- although filled with a goofy vigor -- feels at odds with the rest of the picture.

    His appearance, and that of Stephen Rea ("The Crying Game"), as an indirectly funny fire and brimstone priest, nearly seem like professional courtesy (as in "I'd be happy to appear in your first movie") and as such are just a bit distracting.

    While there's nothing wrong with their performances beyond their tempo disrupting celebrity status, the rest of the performances are what really drive this picture. The present day footage is decently held together by James Caan ("Misery," the first two "Godfather" films) -- in a role that's a nice turn of events since he's finally not playing the heavy -- and the always charismatic Colm Meaney ("The Commitments") in a fun, supporting role.

    Since most of the story takes place in the past, however, more attention is paid to those characters, and the performers who inhabit them do not disappoint. Aidan Quinn ("In Dreams," "Michael Collins"), with those sad, puppy dog eyes, is particularly good as the loner, "bastard" orphan who's finally drawn out of his shell.

    The real find, however, is newcomer Moya Farrelly who plays that spunky and fiercely independent woman who finally brings joy and change -- some good, some not so good -- to Kieran's life. With a completely believable performance and perfect chemistry with Quinn, as well as looks that the camera obviously adores, Farrelly is not only quite good in her role, but also proves that she should have a bright acting future ahead of her. Supporting performances are strong across the board, including the likes of Gina Moxley as Fiona's vindictive mother and Donal Donnelly as Kieran's wobbly, but caring foster father.

    While the picture won't be for everyone and it's deliberate pace may prove to be somewhat boring to others, many will find this heartbreaking film to be quite good. From a great cast and their good performances to smart bits of humor and truly touching moments, this is truly a family-based labor of love.

    Unfortunately arriving in the middle of a blockbuster summer movie season, it probably won't find anything resembling a huge theatrical audience. For those who take the time to see it, however, they'll be treated to an exceptional first time directorial effort and a truly touching film. We give "This Is My Father" a 7 out of 10.

    The following is a brief summary of the content found in this R-rated drama. A brief sexual encounter occurs (without nudity, but including some movement, heavy breathing and facial expressions) and the young woman gets pregnant from that. Some kissing and brief fondling also occur, and a priest asks sexually related questions to a man about his behavior and thoughts.

    A brief fight breaks out with some mild violence, while a character also commits suicide by hanging (we see the before and after moments concerning that act). Profanity is heavy due to at least 2 uses of the "f" word, and other profanities and some colorful language is also present.

    Drinking occurs, with one character seemingly becoming an alcoholic, while some young men spike refreshments at a dance with liquor. A comment is made by a mother about finding marijuana joints in her son's clothing, but we don't see any drug usage. Some smoking also occurs.

    Beyond some bad attitudes and tense family scenes (single mothers and their children not getting along with each other), the rest of the film's categories are mostly void of major objectionable material. As always, however, should you still be concerned about the film's appropriateness for yourself or anyone in your home, we suggest that you take a closer look at the listed content.

  • Betty tells Kieran that she found some joints in her son's pants pocket and that he claimed that he didn't know what they were.
  • Current day Kieran has a drink.
  • Some guys at a church-sponsored dance spike the refreshments with booze, and not knowing this, Kieran (from the past) drinks many glasses and gets a bit tipsy (that leads to a brief fight).
  • We see the widow Flynn asking for refills of two liquor bottles at a store.
  • Kieran (of the past) and a briefly visiting photographer drink from a flask.
  • The widow Flynn drinks and appears somewhat drunk.
  • A shop owner drinks liquor and the widow Flynn drinks more brandy when he leaves.
  • We see the widow Flynn apparently passed out from drinking (she still has a glass in her hand).
  • Two cops who ride up on their bicycles act as if they may be a bit tipsy.
  • Kieran (of the present) drinks a beer while others also drink in a pub.
  • We see a butcher carrying a dead and very flat pig into a store/butcher shop.
  • We see a drop of blood on something that the widow Flynn was peeling (after cutting her finger that we don't see).
  • We see some blood on the widow Flynn's leg after she crashes her bicycle and later see a shop owner tending to her leg that is now a bit bloodier than before (and briefly seen in closeup).
  • After apparently just deflowering Fiona, Kieran notes that she has some blood on her hand and we then see some blood on her slip at her crotch level.
  • We see some shards of glass in the widow Flynn's foot.
  • We see a dead body, but beyond being dead, it's not otherwise gross or bloody.
  • Some may see Kieran (of the past) having both for seeing and then apparently deflowering Fiona who's still a teenager (he's a bit older).
  • A student has both toward Kieran, even going so far as to say that he's a "sh*tty teacher."
  • Jack and his mother have some of both toward each other, while Fiona and her mom also have both toward each other, with the latter going out of her way to ruin her daughter's romance.
  • Some guys at a church-sponsored dance spike the refreshments, won't accept Fiona's request to take a breather from dancing, and then get into a fight with Kieran.
  • Some Catholics might not like the film's portrayal of two priests as "fire and brimstone" types whose behavior (probably legitimate for the time) purposefully elicits some laughs from the audience.
  • Some viewers may not like the fact that some characters put curses on others (although there's no real occult-related behavior beyond than the verbal threat).
  • A shop owner forces a kiss on the widow Flynn.
  • Some viewers may see some local cops giving Kieran (of the past) time to get out of town instead of arresting him as having some of both.
  • We see a person carrying a rope (realizing their assumed intention), that they then throw across a tree branch. Later, we see that person hanging dead from the branch.
  • Some girls ask Jack if it's true that everyone in America has a gun and then ask is he has one. He says that he does, but that it was his grandfather's (we don't see it).
  • Phrases: "Smart ass," "What the hell," "Pain in the ass," "Shut up, you cow," "Bastard" and "Slut."
  • A student purposefully drops a book onto the floor to startle Kieran who's daydreaming.
  • Kieran (of the past) fakes being sick so that he can skip going on a trip with his foster parents and instead hang out with Fiona.
  • A despondent person hangs themselves.
  • None.
  • None.
  • None.
  • At least 2 "f" words (with another possible one), 6 "s" words, 6 hells, 3 asses and 4 uses of "Oh my God," 2 each of "G-damn" and "Oh God" and 1 use each of "Jesus, Mary and Joseph," "Jesus," "God," "Swear to God," "Mother of God," "By God," "For Lord's sakes" and "Oh Jesus" as exclamations.
  • One of the girls that Jack has met grabs her friend and jokingly says that it's now time for the "lesbo stomp" as she takes her inside to dance.
  • We see a few instances of Kieran and Fiona making out, including one where she takes his hand and places it on her clothed breast that he then briefly caresses.
  • During a sermon, a priest talks about "fornicating" with the neighbor's daughter.
  • With Kieran (of the past) in his confessional, Father Quinn says, "You abused yourself...you touched yourself in an unclean way." Kieran confesses that he did and Quinn then asks how often he does that and then interjects "More times than you can recall?" Quinn then asks what he thinks about when he touches himself and asks if it's men. Kieran says no, that he thinks about a girl. Quinn then says that she's only a child and when Kieran says he imagines kissing her, Quinn wants to know where. He also asks whether Kieran or Fiona have touched the other and then asks "Are you fornicating with her?" Kieran says that he isn't, and Quinn wonders if he's thought about it. This ends with Quinn telling Kieran that he can no longer fool around or think of Fiona.
  • Nonetheless, we see him and Fiona kissing and she asks if he "wants to." They then go into a nearby barn. Moments later, we see them lying in the hay (from above and behind them) and see him working on his pants. We hear their heavy breathing and then see her pained reaction (that then turns pleasurable) as they begin having sex while still clothed (seen in a head and shoulders shot with brief movement). This lasts only a few seconds until he climaxes and she says "Did you?" and he responds "I think so." She asks, "Are you sure?" and he states, "'Fraid so." (We then learn that she got pregnant from this encounter) When they hear her mother, they quickly get up and we see him zipping up his pants (but don't see any nudity).
  • Some girls that Jack meets smoke as does Mrs. Kearney, while in the past, some men smoke at a dance, others do so after church, Mr. Maney appears to handle an unlit pipe, and a visiting photographer smokes both a cigar and a cigarette.
  • Betty and her teenage son Jack don't get along that well and she's currently mad at him about his failing school work. She's also not that happy to be caring for her bedridden mother who's still suffering from the effects of a stroke.
  • Both Fiona and Kieran talk about their fathers being absent from their lives.
  • Fiona and her mother don't get along and this gets considerably worse as the story progresses.
  • Suicide.
  • Whether Kieran was wrong for seeing Fiona (in a time when the differences in their age and social status were a big thing) and romances that families and/or society don't support.
  • Jack angrily kicks a drawer, breaking it open.
  • When two girls ask Jack about violence in America and then ask if he knows any murderers, he pauses and then mentions a student who killed a teacher (not seen) and Seamus reads from a tabloid about someone murdering another person (also not seen).
  • When Kieran tries to get a young man to let go of Fiona at a dance, the man shoves Kieran backwards. Kieran then punches him, and then picks up his twin and drops him on the first. He then picks up both by their hair and slams their heads together.
  • The widow Flynn throws a bottle at Fiona as she closes a door (upon which the bottle shatters).
  • Fiona purposefully allows her mother's Virgin Mary statue to drop to the floor and break.
  • A person commits suicide by hanging.

  • Reviewed June 2, 1999 / Posted June 11, 1999

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