Films

Only human after all

B.D.J. November 8 1999
Films

Only human after all

B.D.J. November 8 1999

Only human after all

Films

Wayne Johnston's whimsy falters on the big screen

The Divine Ryans

Directed by Stephen Reynolds

Movies do not get more Canadian. The story begins with the first game of the 1966 NHL season and ends with the final game of the playoffs, when the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens to win the Stanley Cup. And along the way, there is a scene of hockey pucks raining down from the night sky like black hail, hundreds of them denting car roofs and caroming off windshields—an event dubbed “the Apuckalypse,” which momentarily turns this erratic tale from The Rock into a Canuck parody of a Hollywood disaster flick. The Divine Ryans is not about the end of the world, or even about hockey. It is a coming-ofage story about a young boy in St. John’s, Nfld., haunted by the death of his father. Stickhandling between comic whimsy and poignant drama, it takes some wild shots at magic, but despite some valiant performances, fails to find the net.

Adapted by Newfoundland author Wayne Johnston from his 1990 novel, The Divine Ryans concerns a pudgy nine-year-old named Draper Doyle Ryan (Jordan Harvey), an ardent Canadiens fan who has a passion for goaltending, but no real talent. The death of his father, Donald Ryan (Robert Joy), the Oxford-educated editor of The Daily Chronicle, leaves Draper at the mercy of the Ryan dynasty, which owns the paper and the local funeral home. His Aunt Phil (Mary Walsh), an undertaker, and Aunt Louise (Marguerite McNeil), a nun, conspire with Father Seymour (Richard Boland) to draft Draper into

the boys’ choir. Draper, meanwhile, finds cosmic relief with his irreverent Uncle Reg (Pete Postlethwaite), who plies him with homespun mythology.

Postlethwaite, with a picaresque charm, and Wendel Meldrum, who plays the boy’s empathetic mother, strike a note of heartfelt emotion in a Gothic landscape of stock characters. The novel is written through the boy’s eyes. But it is one thing to explore his fearful imagination on the page, and quite another to

bring it to life on-screen. The highheeled “Momataur” of his nightmares, a Freudian mix of mythological beast and bare-breasted mother, comes across as just a silly special effect.

The Divine Ryans is the kind of movie you want to root for, a proudly parochial story set in a Newfoundland rarely captured on the big screen. And rookie director Stephen Reynolds vividly evokes St. John’s. But Johnston’s screenplay, which bristles with lyrical writing, leaves the novel conspicuously untransformed, offering further proof that a novelist is often the least equipped to adapt his own work.

B.D.J.