Black Irish



Anywhere Road Entertainment

NEW YORK -- According to "Black Irish," the directorial debut of Brad Gann (screenwriter of "Invincible"), it sure isn't easy being a working-class Irish family in Boston.

Among the multitude of plot elements in this gritty drama are an unwanted pregnancy, a botched hold-up, a terminal illness, financial struggles and the accidental death of a pet bird. It's all nearly as exhausting for the audience as it is for the characters.

The central character, as is so often the case for these sorts of coming-of-age dramas, is a sensitive young man. Here it is 15-year-old Cole McKay (the talented up-and-comer Michael Angarano), an alter boy who much prefers spending his time on the baseball diamond.

Cole has a lot to contend with. His parents' marriage seems to be floundering, with his brusque father (Brendan Gleeson) having lost his job and now forced to make his living shining shoes, and his rigidly religious mother (Melissa Leo) attempting to preserve the family's reputation even though her unwed daughter (Emily VanCamp) is pregnant. His black sheep older brother (Tom Guiry) is drifting into a life of crime and is so abusive that he literally beats the pants off Cole in front of his school friends.

While the film has many well-observed moments -- such as Cole's interactions with a mobbed-up restaurant owner (Michael Rispoli) who gives him his first job, and his awkward birds and the bees talk with his clearly uncomfortable father -- it ultimately suffers from its relentless piling on of crises. The writer-director's gift for sensitively drawn characterizations and pungently real dialogue is overwhelmed by his propensity for melodrama, with the result that "Black Irish" too often unflattering recalls the Warner Bros. dramas of the 1930s, only without the comforting presence of Pat O'Brien.