Director: Bruce Beresford
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Aidan Quinn, Julianna Margulies, Stephen Rea, Sophie Vavasseur, Frank Kelly, Alan Bates
MPAA Rating: (for thematic material and language)
Running Time: 1:34
Release Date: 12/13/02
Review by Mark Dujsik
It’s a touchy business dealing with a true story of emotional weight, and the problem with Evelyn, the story of a father trying to get his three kids back from the government, is that it replaces emotion with sentiment. I’ve come to learn that difference between the two concepts is based on complexity—of characters, relationships, situations, etc. When a film takes the time to examine these elements, the story becomes emotional, but when those elements are presented at face value, as is the case with Evelyn, the story becomes sentimental—the response is expected but not earned. This is definitely a tale worth recounting because of its historical and political bearing, but it would be better served with a better grasp of the characters and underlying circumstances. As it is, the movie is far too simplified to be effective and far too manipulative to be affective.
In 1953 in Dublin, Desmond Doyle’s (Pierce Brosnan) wife takes the family’s money and runs away with her boyfriend. Doyle is unemployed, susceptible to the drink, and must now raise three children on his own. According to child custody law a little over a decade old, in cases like this, the government is allowed to intervene on behalf of the child(ren) and send them to Catholic orphanages until the parents have the ability to raise the child(ren) again or until the child(ren) have reached the age of sixteen. So in an attempt to get his life on track, Desmond joins with his father Henry (Frank Kelly) to perform at local pubs and takes side jobs during the day. Meanwhile, he is tries to hatch plans to free his children, daughter Evelyn (Sophie Vavasseur) and her two brothers (whose names are mentioned once and are therefore unimportant; I guess two boys don’t tug at the heartstrings quite like a little girl). Enter an attractive and available barmaid named Bernadette (Julianna Margulies), who shares a mutual attraction to Desmond but wants him to clean up his drinking habits before she’ll consider dating him. Then things really go bad when a judge tells him that his wife must consent to for him to regain custody.
Here’s where the law and courtroom elements start to fit in, and we think the movie will begin to become more interesting. The laws and structure of Irish government are established fairly well. The state and the church are inseparable. The church benefits from the child custody law in question, but it also allows for the law’s constitutionality to come into question. There’s a great untapped irony to this whole scenario. Part of the problem is the unity of church and state, but the character eventually accept that connection and use it to save them at the end. The movie either isn’t perceptive enough to realize this paradox or it does and ignores it entirely because it’s simply too complicated to get into. Instead, the movie constantly reminds us of its simplicity. At one point, Desmond asks his lawyer what he would do if it was his family. He might as well be talking to the audience. Then there’s the constant reminders about how important the case is, and how it will set precedent and make history and the like. In case we hadn’t figured out where the movie was going from the start, this seals the deal. Is this really a turning point in Irish law and history? Perhaps on one level, but wouldn’t it be interesting if the movie suggested that such an event would bring up questions about the uneasy marriage of church and state?
Again, though, this is the basics. The courtroom scenes are interesting and idea-heavy (at least when considering the rest of the movie), so of course, they’re undermined by the convention that everyone in the courtroom must cheer and boo and hiss and gasp when a new revelation is made. The lawyers say things that are out of line and rarely face objection from the other side. There’s a villainous judge. The climax revolves around how many times a judge says the word "however." Maybe I would have cared more about the proceedings had the family been better established. Why can’t we get to know these people before they’re separated? They are ultimately broad outlines of real people. But this is also a movie in which Henry tells his granddaughter that beams of sunlight are angel rays, and thereafter, whenever a member of the family is in some sort of crisis, he or she is bathed in subtle, angelic backlighting. The actors work with what they have and do a fine job making up for some of the schmaltz. Pierce Brosnan is solid, giving the basic crisis (father wanting to be with his children) credibility, and the legal team made up of Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea, and Alan Bates are all strong in their basic personalities.
I don’t question the desire to tell this story, and on a fundamental level, the movie is well made and gets that story across. I do question the way in which it is told. Evelyn presents a lot of promising material, but the movie never manages to realize it.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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