If you pitched a movie about historically accurate misery and poverty to any Hollywood exec, none would endure it for more than twenty seconds. So how did this get made? Well, when you present the same dreary idea with the words "It's based on the best-seller," things tend to get green-lighted. You know, there's a ready audience to extract admission fees from. Without that, this project had no possibility of being made. There are exactly zero people in the world clamoring for a generously long, depressing movie.
This movie really needed an adaptation that found (or manufactured) some engrossing throughline in the episodic material. Making it filmic instead of a slavishly, literal depiction of the books imagery would have been just dandy too. But no. Rabid fans tend not to like that. They want the book filmed as if the imagery they supplied while reading it were merely recorded. This is the limp task we ask of filmed novels in this era. It's not compelling. Rarely does a movie survive a books fan base.
They must have devised special life-sucking camera filters to make this. Everything is grey and torpid. But if there's one thing this story didn't need is to have it's misery overdetermined by ponderous direction, a ponderous script, ponderous production design, a ponderous poster of a scowling child and that ponderous Misery-Vision camera work. As my Irish relatives might say "Oh for f***'s Sake!" Didn't a colored piece of broken glass occasionally end up in their hands that didn't get painted grey by the gloom patrol? Even the fruit is grey in McCourts world.
When I first heard his reading of the first page or two of this on NPR it made me laugh out loud. I thought it was going to be a moderate view of his bad childhood relieved by a little humor. Instead I discovered the book to be an exercise in troweling misery upon misery without edification, and I never made it; neither could some of my friends who wanted to open a vein after just a few chapters. It was like paddling upstream through oatmeal (grey oatmeal) wearing a blindfold (grey also). I don't know what this book did for the readers who made it a best-seller, nor did I realize that there were such enormous audiences in the entertainment age hoping to feel seriously miserable. By page 50 I was shouting "We've got it, Frank!" I don't know how I got the tone so wrong from his reading. There's barely a sentence that survives the all-pervading clutch of gloom and death.
If this material weren't already exhausted in just two iterations, it could be spoofed perfectly with the figure of death and his scythe gleefully chopping people down mid-sentence every couple of minutes, and extras in the background painting entire fruitstands grey.
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