Judge Roy Hrab isn't Irish and he doesn't play one on TV either.
You can choose your dreams, but you can't choose your family.
Most family dramas contain melodramic elements as a matter of course. However, the best family dramas, like Ordinary People, keep it under control. On the other hand, the weaker ones, like Black Irish, crumble under the weight of too much.
Facts of the Case
Black Irish is the story of the trials and tribulations of South Boston's McKay family. There is the distant and unemployed father, Desmond (Brendan Gleason, The General); the tightly-wound mother, Margaret (Melissa Leo, 21 Grams); the violent and criminally inclined older brother, Terry (Tom Guiry, Mystic River); the conflicted younger brother who finds solace in baseball, Cole (Michael Angarano, Seabiscuit); and, the daughter with the unplanned pregnancy, Kathleen (Emily VanCamp, The Ring 2). There's also the family dog, King.
So, an Irish family living in Boston, what can we expect? Alcoholism? Catholicism? Abortion? Try all of the above and more, much more, way too much.
Primarily, the story focuses on Cole. The young man finds himself feeling the impact of almost all of the family's numerous calamities. For example, to pay for Kathleen to live away from home for the duration of her pregnancy, the family pulls Cole out of a private Catholic school, sending him to Terry's public school. Terry uses this opportunity to humiliate Cole. Meanwhile, to bring in extra money for the family Cole gets a job at a restaurant. While running an errand for the eatery, Cole observes just how dire his father's employment situation is. Later, Cole finds himself intervening in a heated quarrel between his father and mother.
That's quite a bit of family drama, isn't it? Well, I have barely touched the surface. There are plenty of other strands, involving the rest of the McKay clan. These include: Terry, Kathleen, and an abortion clinic; Desmond and the state of his health; Terry, Cole and a robbery; and, Cole, a pretty girl from school and her pet bird. There are also a couple of comedic sidebars involving Desmond and the family dog…I think you get the picture. To say the least, there's a lot going on in the film's slim 95 minute run time.
And that's where the problem lies. There is too much going on in too little time. Crises follow one another relentlessly and in an accelerated fashion, especially in the last third of the film, where they all come together, sort of. The end result is that the stories do not develop fully or satisfactorily. The movie starts. Stuff happens. And then it ends rather abruptly. I can tolerate unresolved endings when a story is told well, but that doesn't happen in Black Irish. The script could have used a good tightening-up through the shedding of many peripheral events.
The video transfer is passable, but it's obvious that no attempt to clean the print was made. There is plenty of grain, scratches, and other imperfections throughout the film. The audio is strong. The dialogue comes through clear, although I had a little difficulty deciphering the Boston accents at the beginning of the film.
There are two extras. The commentary track, involving writer/director Brad Gann, VanCamp, Angarano, and Finn Curtain, who plays the coach, is not particularly illuminating. The group seems to having a good time, but there's little value added, aside from some stories about the struggles of financing the film and that the story is based partially on Curtain's youth. The "Behind The Scenes" featurette is nothing more than a series of sit-down interviews with the cast and crew. It is similarly forgettable.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While the film is buried under an avalanche of melodrama, there are scenes that do register. However, it's not the script that makes them work. They succeed because the acting is superb across the board. A major strength is that they all have extremely expressive faces that strongly convey the inner feelings of their characters. All the male leads register strong performances, especially Gleason as Desmond. The women, Leo and VanCamp, have less to work with, but make the most of their parts.
Black Irish is, at times, a compelling film because of its excellent performances. However, the multiple storylines and the piling-on of crises are overwhelming. Black Irish doesn't measure up to Ordinary People, but if you enjoy family dramas with strong acting, it's worth renting.
The story is guilty of melodramic overkill. However, the actors are free to go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
• Commentary by Brad Gann, Emily VanCamp, Michael Angarano, and Finn Curtain
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