Albany, New York, Halloween, 1938. Francis Phelan and Helen Archer are bums, back in their birth city. She was a singer on the radio, he a major league pitcher. Death surrounds them: she's sick, a pal has cancer, he digs graves at the cemetery and visits the grave of his infant son whom he dropped; visions of his past haunt him, including ghosts of two men he killed. That night, out drinking, Helen tries to sing at a bar. Next day, Fran visits his wife and children and meets a grandson. He could stay, but decides it's not for him. Helen gets their things out of storage and finds a hotel. Amidst their mistakes and dereliction, the film explores their code of fairness and loyalty. Written by
The scene in The Bird in a Gilded Gage, where Meryl Streep sings, the Mayor of Albany, Tom Whalen is an extra. The scene was shot in what was the Boulevard Cafeteria and has been operated as Restaurant Paridiso at Central Avenue and Robin Street in Albany, NY. The Boulevard Cafeteria was a famous hangout for students at the New York State Teachers' College (now UAlbany)and it was famous for its nude murals, its coffee and black and white cookies. See more »
As noted, this film takes place in 1938; but a billboard is seen advertising the Marx Brothers film "At the Circus" which is a 1939 release. See more »
Given that we often hear a rather idealized version of the Great Depression - it seems like some people go so far as to treat it as the "good old days" - it's important to understand just what things were like back then. Hector Babenco's ultra-downer "Ironweed" does that. Jack Nicholson plays drifter Francis Phelan, who returns to his home town (where he hasn't been in years) and traipses around it, seeing the poverty prevalent throughout the Depression. He deals with his own demons and sees whether or not he can start up a new life. But he can't escape the reality of the status quo, or of his own past.
Watching this movie, you may feel like you've just been drug through a gutter. But one must wonder how much better things are nowadays. For how terrible the Depression was, it helped our country understand not only abject poverty, but what caused the Depression. In this era of air-heads slacking off and using as many resources as possible, I wonder whether or not we might be headed towards a new kind of Depression. If so, then the movie warned us.
Anyway, I recommend this movie, but understand that it's a total downer. Also starring Meryl Streep, Carroll Baker, Michael O'Keefe, Diane Venora, Fred Gwynne, Tom Waits and Nathan Lane.
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