'Miracle': a lovely coming-of-age tale


September 24, 1991|By Stephen Wigler

Jimmy and Rose are Irish teen-agers with imaginations in overdrive. When they walk down the street they make up stories about everyone they see. That old man and old woman who never speak to one another, for example, have been suffering from unrequited love all their lives. As for themselves? "Too friendly to be lovers, too close to be friends," says the irrepressible Rose. "Together they lived in that twilight zone."

"The Miracle," Neil Jordan's wonderful little film opening today at the

Charles, tells what happens when Jimmy and Rose get involved in one of their own fantasies. It involves a mysterious, beautiful, older American named Renee, to whom Jimmy -- who lives alone with his alcoholic father -- is strangely drawn and with whom he becomes romantically obsessed. But this time the story line is real: It involves Jimmy's father, Sam, and it started before Jimmy was born. It is as startling a story as any in "The Twilight Zone," and yet it is, as Rose tells Jimmy late in the film, "an old story, the oldest in the book."

"The Miracle" is nothing less than a lyrical, Hibernian retelling of the story of Oedipus, his mother, Jocasta, and his father, Laius. Let me hasten to add that "The Miracle" has a happier ending than Sophocles' original and that it is as amusing and sensitive a coming-of-age film as any in a long time.

Irish teen-agers Niall Byrne (Jimmy) and Lorraine Pilkington (Rose), who had never acted in a film before, are extraordinary here, with a command of repartee exceptional even for the Irish. It's wonderful to see Beverly D'Angelo (as Renee) in a film worthy of her and that actually allows her to be beautiful. And Donal McCann, so memorable as Gabriel in John Huston's "The Dead," is equally

good as Sam, who has drunk most of his life away only to see it return and haunt him in the form of Renee.

But the real star of the film is writer-director Jordan, whose movies have ranged from the exquisite ("Mona Lisa") to the ludicrous ("High Spirits").

"The Miracle" is by no means perfect -- it's hard to believe that Renee would ever have married a loser like Sam, much less that Sam would ever have thrown her out. And there are certain inequities built into the script, such as the difficulty even so superb an actress as D'Angelo faces in playing against such charming kids as Byrne and Pilkington. Then there's the miracle of the conclusion, which seems merely a coup de theatre (albeit a brilliant one) rather than something logically inevitable.

But in terms of sheer beauty and magic, no film this year surpasses "The Miracle." Jordan's way of weaving in and out of reality and dream recalls Fellini at his best. And the way in which he mixes in segments from the musical play in which Renee is starring in Dublin and circus sequences from the seaside town of Bray (where the youngsters live) are masterly in their narrative command. They also make sense -- because Ireland is a Catholic land in which the illusion of the theater and the hocus-pocus of the circus are never far removed from the sacramental mysteries of the church.

Finally, this is such a beautiful film. The cinematography is by Phillippe Rousselot, whose previous work includes "Dangerous Liaisons," "The Emerald Forest" and "Diva." In its visual aspect -- as in most others -- this film belongs in the same miraculous class.

'The Miracle'

Starring Beverly D'Angelo, Donal McCann, Niall Byrne and Lorraine Pilkington.

Directed by Neil Jordan.

Released by Miramax.

Rated R.

*** 1/2

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