Ironweed (1987)

Ironweed poster.jpg

Quite why the homeless opt out is something that forms the bedrock of this film’s narrative, adapted by the author William Kennedy from his novel. Star performances elevate the downbeat Depression-era material, with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep giving real depth to these sad street people. He is back in his hometown at Halloween, for the first time in decades. She is his occasional girlfriend, a former musician who has long abandoned her musical dreams – her hallucinatory performance of He’s My Pal is a highlight. It’s nice to see Carroll Baker, turning up as Jack’s ex-wife in a radiant performance. The cruelty of society, the beatings administered by ex-servicemen and the awful tragedies that have caused decent people to become hobos, are problems that are relentless and persistent and while the poetry of Kennedy mitigates the depression, the outcomes don’t. Babenco had previously made The Kiss of the Spider Woman but this was his first film proper for an English-speaking audience and he followed up with At Play in the Fields of the Lord. In other words, he is a serious filmmaker of serious films. And Nicholson is indelible as the sad Francis Phelan.