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Circle of Friends

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Circle of Friends

Starring: Chris O'Donnell, Minnie Driver
Director: Pat O'Conner
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 112 Minutes
Release Date: March 1995
Genres: Drama, Romance

*Also starring: Colin Firth, Saffron Burrows, Geraldine O'Rawe, Alan Cumming, Aidan Gillen

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

CIRCLE OF FRIENDS is a coming-of-age drama set in Dublin and in a small town in the Irish countryside nearby. According to the credits, much of it was filmed in County Kilkenny, Ireland. If you have been lucky enough to spent some time in Ireland as I did for three weeks, you know how beautiful it is. The movie shows off beautiful scenery without tending to overpower the story as some movies do, e.g., LEGENDS OF THE FALL. The cinematography by Kenneth MacMillan was peaceful and serene in a natural and graceful way.

Newcomer Minnie Driver plays Benny, a big boned, slightly homely girl from a small town who wants to make it in life. I think this may the age of the wallflowers. There are definite parallels to the part Toni Collette played in Muriel's Wedding which was released in the US about the same time.

Benny grows up with a circle of two main girlfriends played by Geraldine O'Rawe and Saffron Burrows. They leave the village to go off to University. There they meet a circle of boys lead by Jack (Chris O'Donnell). Benny is ambitious about her schooling and her love life and falls instantly in love with Jack.

As you would guess, there are complications and complexities. Some have to do with the small town, some with Benny's belief that since she is not beautiful and Jack is, he will not be interested in her, and still others have to do with the strict Catholic upbringing in Ireland. Of course, as in all movies, we find out that the church is almost always in the wrong, and as soon as the characters grow up enough or get smart enough, they realize this and leave or ignore the church. It would be nice to have religion appear in a movie every now and then in a positive light. After all, we have lots of movie glorifying everything from gangsters to heavy drinking to you name it. Oh well, ...

The problem with the movie is that, based on the information I just gave you, you could write the script now, and you would probably be close. The writer (Andrew Davies) took no risks, and the result is a completely predictable plot. The director (Pat O'Donnell) went the safe route as well making for a nicely homogenized show. This is all quite surprising since the talent of Minnie Driver was clear and yet was so often underutilized. Moreover, the writer also wrote the very inventive script for the To Play The King British series recently on PBS here and the director did the extremely moving and imaginative movie Cal.

Although it could have been much better, and although I was able to forecast every turn in the movie, I did enjoy being a member of Benny's circle of friends for a couple of hours. She was a character I'm glad I got to know. Her strength of conviction and her charm wove a spell on me.

CIRCLE OF FRIENDS runs a little long at 1:52. It is rated PG-13 for sexual discussions and scenes. There is no nudity of any kind and no violence. The movie would be fine for anyone old enough to be seriously interested in romance, say 10 and above I guess. I give the movie a mild thumbs up with the reservations mentioned above, and I award it ** 1/2.

Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes

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