11 March 2001 | Buddy-51
immensely likable little film
`Agnes Browne' is a genuine charmer, a simple, but heartwarming comedy/drama directed by and starring the magnificent Anjelica Huston. Set in a lower class Dublin neighborhood in 1967, the story centers around Agnes, an attractive woman whose husband has just died leaving her sole provider for her seven children, ranging in age from early adolescence to diaper-wetting toddler. With the love of her best friend, Marion, to support her (this almost seems to be more of a love story between them than between Agnes and Pierre, the local Frenchman who falls for her), Agnes learns to cope with financial set backs, the neighborhood extortionist, the growing pains of her children and, most tragically, the terminal illness of someone very dear to her heart.
`Agnes Browne' could have emerged as a heavy-handed wallow in tragedy and bathos, but those involved both in front of and behind the cameras have managed to maintain an air of breezy likeability even in the film's darkest moments. If there is a criticism to be leveled against the movie, it would probably be that the film is actually - at a mere 92-minute running time - a bit too short. We occasionally feel we are being rushed from one event to another without time for proper reflection. Moreover, a number of the characters prime among them Pierre and several of the children tend to get lost in the shuffle. As the silent, sensitive and understanding merchant who woos and wins Agnes, Pierre simply seems too much like the `ideal man' stereotype who always seems to be just waiting in the wings the moment one of these attractive but harried movie widows/divorcees is starting life anew out on her own.
A much more well rounded and three-dimensional character is that of Agnes' best friend, Marion, (beautifully portrayed by Marion O'Dwyer), a warmhearted, fun-loving woman who provides the kind of confidant and companion that all of us would love to have in our lives. But the real selling point of `Agnes Browne' is, undoubtedly, the luminous performance delivered by Anjelica Huston herself. This fine actress manages to flow seamlessly in and out of a wide variety of emotionally demanding moods and moments. Stern and demanding one moment, she can be forgiving and loving the next. Whether alternately strong or vulnerable, idealistic or pragmatic, heartbroken or joyful, Agnes is a character who demands and earns the complete attention and respect from the audience who can't help but be riveted by her every move. With her glowing portrayal, Huston literally lights up the center of this movie.
Yes, the fairy tale ending may seem a bit out of place perhaps. Yet, in a way, for all its moments of death, heartbreak and sorrow, `Agnes Browne' never really aspires to be anything BUT a charming fairy tale. Given the quality of so much of what we see up on the screen, we really couldn't ask for more.