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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
_Ironweed_ haunts for a long time after viewing, so be prepared. I also suggest that you be employed while you view this one.
William Kennedy's novel was an extreme work of beauty, and as much as I enjoyed and respected the novel, I never dreamed a film version could surpass it. In some ways at least, I believe this film does. Streep is luminous, no small feat while playing a drunk (they weren't called "homeless people" back then). And although he's proved it again since, this was the first time most of us saw Nicholson act. Tom Waits is terrific and gritty, Carroll Baker comes out of semi-retirement as though this was the one role she had left in her to play, and mixes pain and determination in just the right quantities.
Babenco clearly had a vision, and displays a maturity I hadn't expected from him. Even the score, a couple of tunes used over the opening and closing credits will make your heart ache.
It's all pathos, and it's all good. Grab it while you can -- I had to go to Canada and get a used copy online to find it at all. It was worth it.
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