Brad Gann's Black Irish, a good little movie that had a very limited theatrical release last year and is not yet out on DVD, gas just become available for viewing on iTunes. Here's the excerpt from Big Screen Boston about it.
2006. Written and directed by Brad Gann. With Michael Angarano, Brendan Gleeson, Melissa Leo, Tom Guiry and Emily VanCamp. Cinematography by Michael Fimognari.
WRITER-DIRECTOR BRAD GANN isn’t Irish and he isn’t Bostonian. But his Black Irish, a coming-of-age tale set in South Boston, is a modest success, partially because it has a light touch with its Irish “isms.” The family at its center, the McKays, is the result of a marriage between an Irish-American (Brendan Gleeson) and an Irish immigrant (Melissa Leo). While some movies portray the Boston Irish as if they live in an Irish bubble far removed from everyday American life, Gann does not, and such an approach gives his movie a universal reach and a resistance to nagging clichés.
After all, its first images are of 15-year-old Cole (Michael Angarano) throwing a baseball into a painted strike zone on a schoolyard wall. There’s no doubt he’s American through and through, even if he is an altar boy contemplating studying for the priesthood. Part of the premise of Black Irish is that Cole is too nice for his rough-and-tumble family: an emotionally remote, hard-drinking dad who’s always searching for work, a mother who’s lost control of her husband, a big brother (Tom Guiry) who’s a belligerent jerk and a big sister (Emily VanCamp) whose life has been derailed by an unplanned pregnancy. It’s typical of the movie that Kathleen’s pregnancy doesn’t result in stereotypical hysterics from her Catholic parents, even when she’s thinking of having an abortion. Instead, the pregnancy is just another obstacle to be maneuvered around, like making ends meet and keeping Terry, the big brother eager to pull Cole down to his level, in check. Such problems mesh when the price of “sending away” Kathleen to a home for unwed mothers (from which she soon bolts) means Cole has to leave his Catholic school for Terry’s public school —jeopardizing his seminary plans and forcing him to have to make a different, better baseball team. He’s more concerned about the latter.
Amidst all these little dilemmas is the main one, and that’s whether “good kid” Cole can retain his essential goodness. Angarano, who has the dark features of Shia LaBeouf, and Gann convey Cole’s goodhearted nature without making him too naïve (the running gag of Cole leaving a little trail of accidentally dead animals in his wake prevents him from being goody-goody). Aside from his outrage during one scene in which he sees his father humiliated, Cole is pretty levelheaded, and he’s an engaging underdog.
Cole’s levelheadedness epitomizes the entire movie’s restraint. Gann has enough faith in his words to let his cast underplay the drama. Some of the characters have brief near-monologue moments, including Cole’s mother and his brother, but they’re not delivered as “big moments.” And when you have an actor as sturdy as Gleeson (1997’s The General) you don’t need to get fancy. As several crises come to a head and other opportunities arise for the characters, Gann’s restraint becomes especially effective in the optimistic yet open-ended resolution.
Black Irish is not as hardcore a South Boston neighborhood movie as Good Will Hunting or Southie. It makes use of several local businesses, though, including Skip Scaro’s Barber Shop, the Galley Diner and Casper Funeral Home, while some of its baseball action is at Foley Field (also seen in Good Will Hunting); the other baseball diamond, seen at the end of the movie, is at Tufts. But the movie mixes and matches a variety of neighborhoods: the family’s house is in Dorchester, school scenes take place at East Boston High (as does the police station scene) and the church is St. John’s Episcopal Church in Jamaica Plain (with the church office scene done in the mansion at Borderland State Park on the Sharon-Easton border). Waltham’s Ristorante Marcellino is also central to the story, as is Roxbury’s Jewish Memorial Hospital. Charlestown, Everett and Chelsea also appear, the last during the car crash scene.
►Locations: Dorchester, South Boston, Charlestown, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Boston; Waltham; Everett; Sharon/Easton; Somerville/Medford.
►Accents: None of the lead actors is local, but Brendan Gleeson, Michael Angarano, Tom Guiry and Emily VanCamp do a good job with their pretend accents, while Melissa Leo does a dandy faux Irish accent. It’s ironic to have Irish Gleeson doing an American accent and American Leo doing an Irish brogue, yet the two do such a good job it’s inconsequential.
►Local color: Perhaps because of budget limitations, there isn’t a lot of public action here (since that involves things like blocking off streets and hiring more extras). Most of the neighborhood scenes could have been filmed in any Northeastern blue-collar neighborhood. But the smattering of Southie businesses and parks on display bolsters the story’s credibility.