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‘Agnes’ means well but is just too sappy

SHARE ‘Agnes’ means well but is just too sappy

AGNES BROWNE —** 1/2 — Anjelica Huston, Marion O'Dwyer, Arno Chevrier, Ray Winstone, Niall O'Shea, Ciaran Owens, Gerard McSorley; rated R (profanity, vulgarity); exclusively at the Tower Theatre.

Anjelica Huston's "Agnes Browne," the tale of an Irish widow raising seven children, is enough to make you want to shout "Erin Go Blah."

Directing and starring in the title role, Huston makes poverty look easy and almost fun in 1967 Dublin.

Sure, Agnes has trouble scraping together enough money to feed her brood, but she has plenty of cash to chain smoke and sip copious pints of Guinness as she belts out traditional Irish songs with her traditional Irish friends at the pub.

The film is well-intentioned but unabashedly sappy, and it ends in a ridiculous, fairy-tale way.

Agnes' husband dies in a car crash, and she must go to a sleazy loan shark for money to pay for his burial. She also takes a job selling produce at an outdoor stand, where she strikes up a friendship with the boisterous Marion (Marion O'Dwyer). Both women are struggling to make ends meet, but they somehow find time to sit and smoke and talk about men, particularly Tom Jones, who's coming to town for a concert.

Another man also catches Agnes' eye — a beefy French baker named Pierre (Arno Chevrier) who is devoid of personality. From their first hesitant hellos on the street to their lavish dinner at a romantic restaurant, sparks never fly. It's impossible not to cringe when Pierre says to her in his thick, drippy accent, "Agnes Browne, you're a vision of heaven."

(All this wooing raises the question: Why isn't Agnes mourning her husband's death? He's only been gone for a couple of months. Doesn't she miss him?)

Between work and her new romance, Agnes squeezes in time for her young children, who miss their father and need some guidance. The oldest boy makes a little money delivering milk and newspapers. A middle boy finds trouble gambling in back alleys. The only daughter nervously prepares for her first communion. The children are endearing and funny and lack the cloying precociousness typical of child actors.

As Agnes, Huston gives a heartfelt performance, even though her accent slips in and out. She brings to her character pride, strength and warmth.

As director, though, Huston is often slow and self-indulgent. She romanticizes the simplicity of street life, repeatedly sweeping the camera over the colorful fruits and vegetables of the outdoor market while jaunty Irish music plays incessantly in the background.

Sentimentality abounds, and problems seem to solve themselves a little too quickly. When situations seem bleak, Agnes pumps up her kids by saying, "We're the Brownes — we stick together!" Money magically appears in the mail, just as the loan shark is closing in to seize the family's furniture. And Tom Jones comes to Agnes' rescue in a scene reminiscent of that "Brady Bunch" episode where Davy Jones visits Marcia because she's his No. 1 fan.

There are some nice moments, though, particularly between Agnes and Marion, who share a sweet, simple friendship. As the two stroll arm in arm along the beach, chatting easily, it's clear these women care deeply about each other. Apparently, caring is all you need in Agnes Browne's world.

"Agnes Browne" is rated R for occasional strong profanity and some crude humor. Running time: 92 minutes.