This is My Father (1998)

D: Paul Quinn
S: Aidan Quinn, James Caan, Moya Farrelly

A middle aged American teacher living an apparently meaningless existence seeks solace in a search for his Irish roots. He discovers the romantic tale of how his mother fell in love with his unknown father when he returns to her home village in County Galway. Well intentioned and generally workmanlike but cliched and predictable blarney from Paul Quinn. It is less than a significant contribution to the evolution of Irish-American cinema, but likely to please those disposed to a predictable retread of the well-worn paths of dear old Ireland on film.

The picture is acted with dignity by a solid cast of both experienced and inexperienced players. James Caan is carefully subdued in what amounts to a narrative McGuffin, his story of finding himself through the past serving as the springboard from which the drama itself comes. Though it has meaning, especially for an American audience facing questions of cultural identity in the late twentieth century, it is not revealing or surprising. The same can be said of the rest of the film. Aidan Quinn (brother of writer/director/executive producer Paul and of executive producer/cinematographer Declan Quinn) is generally good in the role of the slightly simple-minded orphan raised as a son by a childless couple (Donal Donnelly from Korea and Maria McDermottroe from Bogwoman) who becomes the object of affection for young Moya Farrelly against the wishes of her alcoholic widowed mother (Gina Moxley, hilariously aged having played the put-upon daughter not so long ago in Snakes and Ladders). Though Moxley struggles with her make-up, these others contribute believable characterisations, with Farrelly particularly infectious as the somewhat unrealistically rebellious and high-spirited girl (her attraction to Quinn is never properly explained).

The film is padded with amusing vignettes featuring familiar Irish faces, including Stephen Rea as a priest brought in by Eamon Morrissey to preach to the men of the district following a series of scandalous incidents. Brendan Gleeson (The General, I Went Down, The Butcher Boy), also makes a brief appearance as a Guard, as does Colm Meaney as a somewhat effete settled Traveller who runs a boarding house. John Cusack turns up momentarily as a wandering American photographer in a scene which seems to come from another movie entirely.

Essentially the star spotting and performances are all that the film has to offer. The rest is much too familiar to have any great impact, with the tired "Romeo and Juliet in rural Ireland" formula being played out with little to no variation. Its mild commentary on class, sexuality, religion, and family will not surprise anyone who has ever seen any film made about Ireland or Irish characters since 1895, and its suggestion that Americans lack cultural identity is mildly insulting and certainly obvious. It does eventually become tiring, especially as it seems to go on forever (it actually runs just under two hours), because it is immediately clear just what is going to happen and when it does there is nothing interesting about it.

This was a pet project for the Quinn brothers, and to be fair it is well made and has the merit of not being embarrassing (The Nephew and Gold in the Streets are examples of just how bad it could have been). Some of the present day scenes do go awry though; with a sub-plot involving Caan's troubled teenage nephew meeting local schoolgirls crying out to be removed entirely. On the whole it stays safe by pushing the blarney button and doggedly churning out the cliches in the almost mythical agrarian Irish past (nominally it is 1939, but apart from the presence of a car, it might as well be a hundred years earlier).

It is dispiriting to see this kind of film still being made when films like The Butcher Boy, The General, How to Cheat in the Leaving Certificate and November Afternoon have expanded the range of Irish experiences captured on film. It is a shame that international audiences will probably still flock to the likes of This is My Father for some time to come yet. Those that do will get just what they expect.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1999.