This Is My Father (United States/Ireland, 1999)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

For first-time filmmaker Paul Quinn, This Is My Father is clearly a family affair in more than one sense of the term. Not only does the plot deal with an aging man coming to grips with truths about the father he never knew and the mother he thought he understood, but Quinn has made the credits to his movie look like a study in nepotism. Paul writes and directs, his brother Aidan has one of the starring roles, and his other brother Declan serves as cinematographer. All three are listed as executive producers. If the final result wasn't as emotionally satisfying, Quinn's "keep it in the family" approach would be an easy target for criticism.

This Is My Father is hampered by an unnecessarily cumbersome structure. The action begins in modern-day America, where Kieran Johnson (James Caan), a self-confessed "lonely history teacher [living] in rural Illinois," begins to wonder about his father, a man he never knew. He finds evidence (an old photograph wrapped in newspaper) to suggest that his mother's story about his sire's identity might not be true. And, since a recent stroke has rendered her mute and apparently senseless, he has to go to Ireland's County Galway to seek his answers. Accompanied by his nephew, Jack, he travels there and finds an elderly woman (Moira Deady) who is willing to reveal the entire story.

Caan's scenes represent a bookend for the more involving and better realized flashback sequences, which tell of the tragic love between Kieran O'Day (Aidan Quinn), a penniless farmer, and Fiona Flynn (Moya Farrelly), the only daughter of a wealthy widow. It's the spring of 1939, and Fiona has just returned from boarding school. Although she and Kieran have known each other their whole lives (in small towns, everyone knows everyone else), they have never been close. Now, they strike up a friendship. Kieran, a loner who has little knowledge about women, tries desperately to do everything right (and usually fails). For her part, Fiona finds his efforts endearing. During one magical night they spend together at the beach, they confess their love for one another. But "times were different" in 1939, and a match between the two is frowned upon for social and religious reasons. So, as factions within the town (headed by Fiona's mother and the local priest) try to rip them apart, the two lovers fight to stay together.

Romantics will be enthralled by this motion picture, which possesses many of the qualities inherent in the best tear-jerking love stories. It is unabashedly sentimental and melodramatic, but Quinn keeps the level of manipulation from becoming too obvious. We come to care about the flashback characters even though we recognize that everything cannot end well for them. From long before Romeo and Juliet, there has always been great appeal in the tale of two star-crossed lovers divided by circumstances, and This Is My Father continues the tradition. That events transpire in the picturesque Irish countryside (beautifully captured on film by Declan Quinn) is an added bonus, and the colorful supporting characters further contribute to the movie's attraction.

Unfortunately, the 1999 sequences aren't as effective, and don't add the additional layer of dramatic depth Quinn was striving for. Aside from the contrivances necessary to get him to Ireland, there's nothing wrong with Kieran Johnson's search for his roots – it's just not as involving as the longer flashback story. Every time there's a break in the old lady's narrative to allow events to return to modern times, I was irritated by the interruption. It's always a tricky business to balance a framed story so that both time lines capture the audience's attention on the same level. The English Patient didn't do it, and neither does This Is My Father.

Aidan Quinn, an American actor who has previously appeared in films set in Ireland (The Playboys, Michael Collins) is solid and likable as the shy, intellectually slow Kieran. Newcomer Moya Farrelly (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Ione Skye) is a real find, imbuing Fiona with an infectious energy and joie de vivre that nothing can beat down. She and Quinn click in the time-honored tradition of opposites who attract. Chemistry is the single most important ingredient in any romance, no matter where or when it is set, and it's evident here. In the modern segments, James Caan is solid (although unspectacular) as the man whose quest impels the narrative. Supporting roles are filled by a number of impressive names, including Donal Donnelly (as Kieran O'Day's foster father), Stephen Rea (as a creepy preacher), Colm Meaney (as the landlord at the bed & breakfast where Kieran Johnson stays), and Brendan Gleeson (as an often-drunk policeman).

This Is My Father does not startle with plot twists and unexpected revelations, but that's part of its charm. The film is always true to its simple story, and does not attempt to stray in a sensationalistic direction just to mislead the audience. It's not all that difficult to guess how things are going to end long before the cinematic punctuation is placed on Fiona and Kieran's romance. For director Paul Quinn, this is a fine effort, and represents the kind of motion picture that lovers of well-constructed romances long for.

This Is My Father (United States/Ireland, 1999)

Director: Paul Quinn
Cast: James Caan, Aidan Quinn, Moya Farrelly, Gina Moxley, Jacob Tierney, Donal Donnelly, Maria McDermottroe, Moira Deady, Stephen Rea
Screenplay: Paul Quinn
Cinematography: Declan Quinn
Music: Donal Lunny
U.S. Distributor: Sony Classics
Run Time: 2:00
U.S. Release Date: -
MPAA Rating: "R" (Sexual Situations)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1