Gold in the Streets (1997)

D: Elizabeth Gill
S: Jared Harris, Ian Hart, Aiden Gillen

A teenage boy emigrates to New York and immerses himself in the hopes, dreams and disappointments of the Irish emigrant community there. He encounters a group of fellow travellers whose lives take various trajectories which inform his own concerns for his future.

Painfully clichéd and almost completely unwatchable film co-written by producer Noel Pearson and debuting director Elizabeth Gill. Few people were duped by this utterly transparent pandering to Irish-American nostalgia on either side of the Atlantic. Though the film has the money behind it to look professional and accomplished, and it wipes the floor with semi-amateur films such as November Afternoon and How To Cheat In the Leaving Cert on a purely production basis, this is strictly sub par, without an once of the integrity of either of these other films.

The characters are utterly unconvincing stereotypes, from the repressed nunnish girl trying to get attention, to the broad, bombastic one whose dream is to return home and open up a restaurant, to the depressive, unemployable one with the dark secret. Even the accents are wrong, and frequently slip, and the performances from a young cast are inevitably not up to the scale of the budget that has been allotted to this film. Only Ian Hart comes away with a modicum of respectability (though his accent doesn't hold), but can't save a truly stupid character from tiresome and predictable situations. James Belushi holds his own as a barman, but wisely takes a secondary role in the action.

Nothing that happens here is believable. It plays like some demented 1950s fantasy with a 1990s overlay of sex, profanity and loud music. The scene where a lovestruck young man sings an Irish air to a houseful of WASPs to win their respect was done for laughs by Steve Martin in Housesitter, but is played here with a completely straight face and is virtually unbearable for anyone with an once of respect for the recent achievements of the Irish cinema. Based on a play, the film is clearly stagebound, with several overlong dialogue exchanges which induce winces, cringes and even tears with their insipid, juvenile histrionics.

There is no evident reason why this film was made other than that the money was available and had to be spent on a project which could be exported to gullible expatriates and Diaspora. This godawful, disgraceful film sets back the cause of an Irish cinema more significantly than any of the hated international productions which have used the setting to justify all kinds of romantic excess in the past. Of course there must be somebody out there who likes it, and I'm sure Gill embarked on the project with due excitement and enthusiasm, but the result is easily one of the worst films ever made in or about Ireland and the Irish in the history of cinema.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1998.