The British Isles have had their taste of success in the U.S. boxoffice with
low-budget, unambitious fare. There was "The Full Monty", "Brassed Off", and
"The Trial of Ned Kelly". So, it's small wonder that every year some product
from those cousins abroad will come forth in another attempt at a similar
outcome. It just goes to prove that any formula for success is elusive and
thinking you have a movie with the same elements that proved so effective in
the past would garner a repeat. The latest in this thread of packaged
imports is "Evelyn". It doesn't do it.
It starts off with a plus. It's star, Pierce Brosnan, is very familiar from
the Bond series, last seen in
"Die Another Day", currently running big. Next plus for "Eleanor" is
surrounding him with a few other Irish-identified names, the likes of Aidan
Quinn (actually born in Illinois) and Stephen Rea, and Englishman Alan
(Where is Michael Caine when we need him?)
In any case, it would seem they depleted the island of just about anyone who
could bring commercial zing to the good ol' American audience. Then, to
brighten that outlook even more, they corral Julianna Margulies of "ER"
With a simplistic by-the-numbers script and a style of shoving subtleties in
your face like it was to be shown to no one with an IQ above 80 or an age
below 12, the film's creative chemistry is wasted.
Based on a real incident in Irish jurisprudence, the story outlines the case
of a father, two sons, a daughter by the name of Evelyn, and a wife who
abandons the lot. Turns out that Desmond Doyle, the now single father is not
allowed, by the established "Children's Act of 1941", to raise his children
without the consent of the mother. In this case she's so long gone, and for
good, that this is not an option.
But, fighting for them is, and Doyle's fight begins with himself. After
being turned away by the government minister who presides over the terms of
the Children's Act and protects it like his appointment was at stake, Doyle,
a painter by trade, realizes that he needs to gain continuous, reliable
employment. To win the affections of temporary barmaid Bernadette (Julianna
Margulies) he must conquer his drinking habit.
On the way to those goals, he manages to enlist the aid of a powerful legal
team (Stephen Rea, Aidan Quinn, Alan Bates) and after being soundly rejected
by the lower court, his legal team takes the matter to the supreme court of
Ireland where, it seems, constitutional issues are heard. Their study of
several articles of that document show that the Children's Act is in
contravention of the Irish constitution. The only problem is that the
statute is ingrained and, to allow otherwise is a bitter pill of a people's
victory the court and the ministers of government won't swallow. They
dissemble all they can in order to twist the interpretation in order to avoid
a reform that logic demands.
How it ends is not for us to divulge here. Let's say the acting is
professional, the screenplay doesn't make very much of that, it's fun seeing
Pierce Brosnan shed of his James Bond personna and divulging the hidden
down-to-earth mannerisms of a pro who should get out more. Finally, there's
the title character portrayer, Sophie Vavasseur, who is just as charming as
the piece requires.
Yes, "Evelyn" is heartwarming and, yes, it's inspirational. Many will be
taken in by it. The trouble enters the picture when it it pushes those
themes down your throat, to the point of making itself an outright tract on
touchy, feely platitudes and ill-advised flourishes. It's called corn. The
most egregious of this is the melodramatic appearance of the preposterous
"angel rays" -- just when little Evelyn is in the witness box and in need of
a little celestial confidence building. This kind of shameless movie
mentality went out with separated beds, or so one might have wished.
Among the legal team there is no anger, anxiety or much beyond a good ol'
boys insouciant trip to the library. These big guns barely crease their
ascots as this major legal battle is put together -- little more than a romp
for these gentlemen, both as unchallenged actors reading simplistic lines and
as the legal tacticians they so feebly portray.
Because of such Sunday school simplicity, the virtues of the film are
inadequate to lift the picture out of a middling level of dramatic interest
or to inspire much by way of wide admiration by any but the arch and
indiscrimanate romantics out there. But, Brosnan's work shows such a high
level of sincerity and dedication that we encourage him to continue in the
non-Bond mold. His intelligence and modulation shows through and will see
him through, given better developed material.
As fine a director as Bruce Beresford has been in the past, he should have
known better than to allow such superficial trivialities and celestial
nonsense to seep into the staging. After all, he directed "Tender Mercies"
and "Driving Miss Daisy", two films graced with superb screenwriting. This
screenplay by Paul Pender ("Cadfael" 1994 TV series) is not that -- it might
have been directed by some Sunday school teacher who read a book on movie
making. The result, for this movielover, is too much cloying, bathetic
blarney and stock characters.
The soundtrack includes a number by the singular Van Morrison but does not
incorporate two marvelous traditional folk songs sung convincingly and well
by Brosnan in the picture.
~~ Jules Brenner