The road to boredom and narrative confusion is paved with fine intentions in this overly deliberate tale of growing up scared and Catholic in the Maritime Provinces of Canada. A too-subdued tone of cautious irreverence ultimately subsumes good writing and arresting imagery in “The Divine Ryans,” which is destined to fall quickly from theatrical grace before finding a little more devotion on vid shelves.
If helmer Stephen Reynolds’ claustrophobic Newfoundland setting was more obviously the 1960s, it would perhaps be easier to identify with the problems of 9-year-old Draper Doyle (the bland Jordan Harvey), who loses his hockey-loving father (Robert Joy) to an apparent suicide, and then has nightmares about pucks falling from the sky. Even worse, considering that Dad seemed to be hiding more than Stanley Cup memorabilia in his closet, is the curse of female sexuality, which takes the nightmare form of the Momataur — his half-naked mother prowling around in an elk suit.
Wayne Johnston’s script, adapted from his excellent novel, takes pains to describe Draper’s mother as an ignorant small-town hick, but “Seinfeld” vet Wendel Meldrum plays her as a sophisticated, modern type. The lad likewise has a sharp-witted bohemian uncle (Pete Postlethwaite, doing an OK accent) and sitcom-savvy little sister (Genevieve Tessier). But for some reason, this fortress of sanity is no match for a ferocious aunt (Mary Walsh) who’s also the local undertaker, as well as other relatives in the black togs of priests and nuns. The implication is that the Church will get you, no matter what. But if that were true, there wouldn’t be so many knowing memoirs like this.
Pic has an impressively stylized look, undercut a bit by the usual score schmaltz, and even more by a repetitive format that drives all the helmer’s best effects six feet under. Big set pieces, such as the uncle’s psychological attempt to “oral-yze” the boy, instead of analyzing him, come off as feeble and ill-considered — especially given the subtext.