One would hope that Anjelica Huston, who grew up in the remote fields of County Galway, would have the bitter reality of Irish proles in her blood, but Agnes Browne is soft-boiled blarney so sluttish with Hollywood clichés it could’ve been made in Burbank. Huston’s heroine is a piss-poor city widow/fruit vendor with seven children who, you get the sense, are raising themselves while their mum is out having middle-aged romances and pubbing with her blowsy buddy Marion (Marion O’Dwyer). She’s trying her noble best, of course, to keep things together (though with her ubiquitous fag, hair kerchief, and too-small cardigan, she helplessly evokes Terry Jones in drag), but her bashful liaison with a Depardieu-esque French store owner (Arno Chevrier) is sodden by Marion’s inevitable cancer and her nine-year-old son’s not-so-inevitable trouble with a local loan shark (a preposterously villainous Ray Winstone).
Not entirely charmless, Agnes Browne is most amusing when Agnes and Marion are chortling about sex: “Seven children and no organism to show for it,” Agnes burbles, not long before insisting on seeing Marion’s pre-op crotch shave job. But rather than tell a story, Huston’s film teeters between beery melodrama and overscored Moonstruck-ness, and, given the opportunity, Huston always goes for the dirt-cheap laughs and choke-ups. When the final, cheesy transcendent moment comes, it belongs to the likes of Tom Jones, arriving in a black limo to solve all of Agnes’s problems and croon “She’s a Lady” one more time. Ireland was never like this.