Huston carries `Agnes Browne'

March 10, 2000|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Mother, friend, protector -- Agnes Browne, a plucky Irish lass whose dead husband has left her to raise seven children on her own in the hardscrabble streets of Dublin, excels as all of those.

Not that nothing ever goes wrong. Rather, nothing ever goes so wrong that it won't go right again with a little bit of patience.

In the hands of a lesser actress, this superwoman/supermom/superpal could have become super-tiresome.

But Huston is no lesser actress, and her Agnes Browne manages to seem human in spite of herself. Even though her rose-colored glasses never fog up for more than a few moments, Huston's carefully calibrated performance makes us believe that real tragedy could be just around the corner.

Certainly, there is no shortage of potential tragedies Agnes is forced to face, everything from vengeful loan sharks to French-accented suitors to broken-down hearses to Tom Jones concert tickets that prove too valuable for her to keep, especially when selling them could keep one of her young sons from being fitted with a pair of cement boots and dumped in the river.

Set in 1967, when Tom Jones could believably be seen as the height of Dublin cool, "Agnes Browne" benefits not only from Huston's performance, but also from the very believable friendship the script sets up between Agnes and her best friend, Marion Monks (Marion O'Dwyer).

The two women, who run adjoining stalls in the city's open-air food market, have known each other so long they're like twins, each always knowing what the other is thinking, each with an unfailing ability to wrap the other around her little finger.

Too bad Anjelica Huston the director doesn't give Anjelica Huston the star a movie more worthy of her luminous performance. "Agnes Browne" could use some of the hard edge Huston displayed in her first film as a director, the brave (and controversial) "Bastard Out of Carolina." It's as if Huston wanted to atone for the earlier film's brutality by softening this one. She shouldn't have worried.

In the end, "Agnes Browne" is a pleasant little confection that leaves behind the sneaking suspicion it should have amounted to so much more.

`Agnes Browne'

Starring Anjelica Huston and Marion O'Dwyer

Directed by Anjelica Huston

Released by USA Films

Rated R (Language, adult situations)

Running time 92 minutes

Sun score: **1/2

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