*/**** Image C+ Sound B- Extras B+
starring Pierce Brosnan, Julianna Margulies, Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea
screenplay by Paul Pender
directed by Bruce Beresford
by Walter Chaw It seems as though "inspired" in the phrase "inspired by a true story" is the operative word as the 2002 Christmas season presents to us a rotten couplet of films "inspired" by true stories that, in all likelihood, were pretty interesting prior to the whitewashed variety of "inspiration" dished out in most high profile biopics. Headliner Antwone Fisher (a rancid piece of garbage I like to refer to as "Good Antwone Fishing" or "Finding Fisher-er") gains esteem just by the association of twinkly-eyed Denzel Washington behind the camera (and stentorian Denzel in front), while small foreign film Evelyn will probably gain esteem by dint of its small and foreign status. (Just like its cute-as-a-button titular waif.) Like so many horrible movies of this mongrel breed, however, both Antwone Fisher and Evelyn are so uncompromising in their saccharine manipulations that nurses should stand at theatre entrances, passing out hypodermics of insulin.
In 1953 Ireland, down-on-his-luck Desmond Doyle (Pierce Brosnan) is abandoned by his wife, the mother of his three children: daughter Evelyn, and, um, two boys. Reported to the authorities by his evil mother-in-law, Desmond's moppet issue is taken into custody by the Catholic Church and the Irish court. Getting his life together touring Irish pubs with crusty Eyre da Henry (Frank Kelly), Desmond is shocked to learn that a dusty law on the Irish books won't allow him the pleasure of his children's company without the written release of his AWOL wife. What to do, then, but enlist a Yank (Aidan Quinn), a cantankerous veteran solicitor (Alan Bates), and a hairy barmaid (Julianna Margulies) to his cause against God and country.
Evelyn is desperately Irish: every character in the film is either drinking Guinness, being compared to Oscar Wilde, giving one another books of Yeats, peeling potatoes, or singing "Irish Lullabye" or "Danny Boy." An early sentimental throughline of "angel rays" introduced by an instantly doomed grandpa to disposable Evelyn (Sophie Vavasseur, a native Dubliner with no discernible accent) recurs twice more in the film to the sort of diminishing returns cheered by idiots. I will never completely understand the championing of this sort of film as "heart warmer" or "family"--as a picture it is desperately uneven, as a history it's deeply suspect, and as an entertainment it's simplistic and jejune.
Aussie director Bruce Beresford hasn't made a genuinely good film since 1991's Black Robe, and his avalanche of mediocre to bad films continues with Evelyn. Paul Pender's debut script should be taught in screenwriting seminars as an example of uninspired pabulum "inspired" by true events that will inevitably be made into features by actors starting their own production companies. If not for the rich bounty of hearty belly laughs (most of them coming during a more-ridiculous-than-usual courtroom scene: "Angel rays, papa!"), there would be nothing to recommend of this feel-good train wreck. Evelyn is the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" franchise committed to film--its greatest contribution to knowledge and art that it will most likely be forgotten even as it's being watched. Originally published: December 25, 2002.
by Bill Chambers As icky as Evelyn is, I gotta give props to the team of Jan & Jerry Hargrewe for conjuring some excellent material to supplement the film on DVD. First things first, the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is soft and lacking in deep blacks, giving off the impression of a LaserDisc image rather than a DVD circa 2003. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is not much better, blooming to life only once and therefore inexplicably as Desmond Doyle trudges through swampland to get to his lawyer. Two film-length commentaries join Evelyn on disc, the first featuring director Bruce Beresford (who's all business, discussing production details), the second Pierce Brosnan and his producing partner Beau St. Clair, who attenuate stories they tell in the bonus documentaries.
Both tracks get the job done, but the heart of the DVD is a pair of comprehensive making-of featurettes produced sans an abundance of gloss. "The Story Behind the Story" (19 mins.) doesn't delve into the life of the real Doyles so much as the journey of Paul Pender's script, though surprisingly, Pender leaves out the key detail that resulted in him dropping off the screenplay at Pierce Brosnan's office in person, and so the tale is resumed to even greater rewards in "Behind the Scenes" (21 mins.), which adds Beresford and a host of actors to the previous doc's interview line-up of Pender, Brosnan (getting amusingly sidetracked bitching about his new plasma-screen TV) and St. Clair. A 3-part photo gallery, trailers for Evelyn, Thelma & Louise, and The Princess Bride, an "MGM Means Great Movies" reel, and pages of title recommendations (including all of the Brosnan Bonds) round out the platter. Originally published: April 2, 2003.