Emeralds of the aisle
For the average person, St. Patrick's Day may be a 24 hour excuse to wear green and drink Guinness... but not for me. Growing up in a very large, very Irish family has taught me that the holiday starts March 1, and may even go through out the whole month. What do we do for almost 3 three weeks, you ask? Well, we kick off the month with our list of staple Irish movies.
Now, it is important to understand that by Irish movies I do not just mean the movie takes place in Ireland, or one person does an Irish jig... I mean movies that tell real stories the way only Irish people can. Ireland natives are known worldwide for their "gift of gab" and love to tell entertaining stories, so it is little wonder that they have made some of the most brilliant movies in film history.
In the hopes of sharing the wonderous celebration of St. Patty's Day with you, here is a list of just some of the "emeralds of the movie theatre aisles."
Young Irish immigrant Ellis (pronounced AYE-lish) Lace finds herself navigating the promises of 1950s America. While she is initially shackled by homesickness for her mother's care, Ellis is soon swept off her feet by a charming young Italian immigrant. Eventually her past comes back back to disrupt her new, blissful life, and Ellis must decide between two countries she loves dearly and separate lives she lives within them.
Brooklyn was directed by John Crowley an Irish immigrant himself. he was born in County Cork and moved to America following his college career, and soon became a big presence in both the film and theatre scenes. There is quite possibly no one who is more familiar with the romanticized American dream and the experience of being a young Irishman in a completely new world. As someone with ancestors who lived similar immigration stories, I can assure you this movie is extremely accurate- from the prejudice Ellis faces as an Irish woman to the feuds between Irish and Italian communities.
Brooklyn is led by Saoirse Ronan, who was born in The Bronx, New York. Despite her American birth, she was given one of the most traditional Irish names (it is pronounced SEER-sha by the way). In my opinion, there is no one more suited to play the starring role of Ellis Lace. Ronan tells such a timeless tale of enduring love and poses the ever-present question "Where do we come from?" The actress explores both the character's heritage and her new surroundings, and portrays the reality that every immigrant faces: our lives are not dictated by our past, and we are free to be whoever we want.
2. Michael Collins
For those of you who prefer a more direct look at Irish history, Irishman Neil Jordan's Michael Collins fits the bill. Starring Liam Neeson (!!!), Michael Collins and his friends Harry Boland (Aidan Quinn) and Eamon de Valera (Alan Rickman, RIP) lead the Irish Republican Army in a battle against Britain for Irish independence. However Collins gets tangled up in negotiations with the British in efforts to establish peace, and must decide where his loyalties lie when he is ordered to murder Boland and de Valera.
If you have not recognized the pattern yet, a lot of Irish cinema deals with identity and conflicting loyalties- a reflection of the rich and complicated history of Ireland.
Michael Collins is massively overlooked. It features beautiful cinematography and expert acting, telling one of, if not the, most important turning points in Ireland's fight for freedom. the Easter Rising is a very sentimental event for Irish families, as it marked the liberation of Catholic Ireland from Protestant England. It was the moment in history that created the two Irish nations we now know today: the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. If you have ever had a real conversation with an Irish person, they will get very upset very quickly if you make the mistake of lumping the two countries into one, which is why Michael Collins' portrayal of this historical war is so important.
Michael Collins is the perfect example of how it is not just the era that defines that character, but the character can also define the era. The birth pangs of the troubled country make up just as much of the story as the rise and fall of the main character, showing how raw the lives of the Irish soldiers were- and that their pains were felt by the entire country. Watching this movie on St. Patrick's Day is a family tradition for many, as it connects Irish descendants back to their often overlooked origins.
3. The Departed
Perhaps a little more nostalgic than anything, The Departed provides a modern and action-packed look at Irish mobs in Boston, Massachusetts. There are a lot of intricate details to this plot, but essentially, Irish mobsters and Boston cops are infiltrating each other, trying to take the other down as quickly as possible.
This Martin Scorsese film has a stunning cast list: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin. With a director and cast like this one, no wonder it is such an iconic and enjoyable movie. Wahlberg is certainly the stand-out in this film and provides so much emotional depth to the screen.
The script is thrilling, witty and full of twists and turns- especially the final half hour. The Departed is not just a great film, but it is an all-time great mob movie, and brings so much cultural relevance to Irish-American history. When one thinks of mob movies, usually title such as The Godfather or other Italian mafia inspired films come to mind, but The Departed brings the Irish, the original crime ring and first enemy of the Italians, to center-stage.
The Departed is also just a genuinely well-done film. The plot is essentially a double-blind experiment with several ingenious layers for audience members to dissect, which creates an impending anxiety while viewing. Two rising imposters must cross each other's paths at some point, right? The film plays with a moral labyrinth that leads DiCaprio and Damon exhibit exceptionally; it is Scorsese's examination of conscience.
4. Good Vibrations & Sing Street (A Double Feature)
These two films may be much more niche, and may require a little more focus due to the heavy accents, but they are Irish entertainment in its purest form.
Glenn Leyburn's Good Vibrations follows Belfast punk Terri Hooley as he rounds up a gang of misfit adolescents who form a punk band in an effort to bring their down-trodden city back to life in the midst of political strife. Think School of Rock, but extremely Irish.
Extremely similar to the above, John Carney's Sing Street depicts young Conor as he is plucked from his posh private school and transferred to a tough inner-city alternative during the 1980s recession of Dublin. As Conor tries to adjust to his new edgy lifestyle, he decides to start his own band. I think you can see where this is going.
Both Good Vibrations and Sing Street are musical comedies, and showcase all the typical chaos and carefreeness of Irish city life. Ireland is one of the most lively places in the world, and that is in part because of the young people who take the grass roots path like Terri and Conor. Viewing these films on St. Patty's Day provides a welcomed breather to heavier films like The Departed and Michael Collins, and certainly are one of the best ways to kick off the March 17th celebrations.
5. The Luck of the Irish
Ok, ok, ok. By no means is this Disney Channel Original a cinematic masterpiece, but it is probably the one family-friendly film on this list, and a pretty good one at that. In The Luck of the Irish, teenager Kyle Johnson discovers his family's Irish heritage and must battle for a lucky gold charm to protect his family from an evil leprechaun. I know it is outlandish and probably seems offensive, but honestly it may be one of the most entertaining movies Disney Channel has ever put out.
While Irish people despise being called leprechauns, the tiny creatures are a major part of the culture's folklore, and this is a pretty realistic depiction of them. Leprechauns are not just these little jolly guys, they are the Irish equivalent of goblins, and pretty evil. I think the outlandishness and the surprising accuracy of The Luck of the Irish is what really makes the film. However, it still plays with some important themes that even Brooklyn touches on: we all have our own special identities, and we are free to decide how to celebrate them.
6. Derry Girls (For a short TV break)
Derry Girls is not a movie, but a short television series found on Netflix, and is one of my favorites on this list. It is easy to watch, as the two seasons each have six episodes (twenty minutes each). However, beware the HEAVY Irish accents, as this show features native Irish actors.
Derry Girls follows 16 year old Erin and her friends as they explore 1990s Derry, Ireland, one of the border-towns of Northern Ireland. They encounter armed Land Rovers, British Army soldiers, prep school nuns and the traditional growing pains of teenage life. Derry Girls is the perfect example of how even during the era of The Troubles, teenage life continued on despite the political and military tensions between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland.
Erin and her friends grew up in devout Catholic families and attend a Catholic all-girls school in a town that is constantly threatened by Protestant England, so conflict is inevitable. However instead of turning the series into a historical drama, director Lisa McGee created a heartwarming comedy that even had my 75 year old grandfather chuckling. The Sister Michael, played by Irish actress Siobhán McSweeney, absolutely steals the show. Her dry wit and sharp, sarcastic comments about everything from Erin and her friends to the young and attractive priest provide probably the funniest content I have seen in a long time. Seriously, I think I cried from laughter at least 30 times during this series.
Besides the on-point comedy though, Derry Girls is quickly turning into a cult-favorite because of the heartfelt and inspiring way it handles the topic of Irish liberation. Erin and her friends represent every Irish Catholic in the 1990s, and how despite the political unrest communities held together and celebrated their culture. Not even rebel attacks could keep the Derry Girls from trying to set each other up with the cute boys at the neighboring school., much like how constant military presence left no effect on the joyous parties in the Irish pubs.
Now that I have given you a slew of films (and one fantastic TV show) to prepare yourselves with, I certainly hope you are in the spirits to celebrate St. Patrick's Day this year. Do not forget the corned beef and cabbage!