Ironweed (film)

Ironweed is a 1987 American drama film directed by Héctor Babenco. It is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by William Kennedy, who also wrote the screenplay. It stars Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep, with Carroll Baker, Michael O'Keefe, Diane Venora, Fred Gwynne, Nathan Lane and Tom Waits in supporting roles. The story concerns the relationship of a homeless couple: Francis, an alcoholic, and Helen, a terminally ill woman during the years following the Great Depression. Major portions of the film were shot on location in Albany, New York, including Jay Street at Lark Street, Albany Rural Cemetery and the Miss Albany Diner on North Broadway.

Ironweed (movie poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster by John Alvin
Directed byHéctor Babenco
Produced byKeith Barish
Marcia Nasatir
Screenplay byWilliam Kennedy
Based onIronweed
by William Kennedy
Music byJohn Morris
CinematographyLauro Escorel
Edited byAnne Goursaud
Distributed byTriStar Pictures
Release date
  • December 18, 1987 (1987-12-18)
Running time
143 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$27 million
Box office$7.3 million[1]

The film was nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Nicholson) and Best Actress in a Leading Role (Streep).


During the 1930s depression Francis Phelan (Jack Nicholson) wanders the city. Francis is a washed-up and retired baseball player who deserted his family back in the 1910s, when he accidentally dropped his infant son to the ground, causing the child's death. It is implied that he was drunk at the time, but Francis claims he was just tired and doesn't understand why no one will believe in his story. Since then, he has been a bum, roaming the streets and punishing himself by remembering men that he knew and died while he was younger in different circumstances. Wandering into his hometown of Albany on Halloween in 1938, Phelan seeks out his lover and drinking companion, Helen Archer (Meryl Streep). The two meet up in a mission managed by Reverend Chester (James Gammon), and later in Oscar Reo's (Fred Gwynne) gin mill. Over the next few days, Phelan takes a few minor jobs to support Helen, while haunted by visions of his past. Eventually, Francis comes back to his old family house and tries to make peace with his wife Annie Phelan (Carroll Baker), his son Billy (Michael O'Keefe) and daughter Peg (Diane Venora). Meanwhile, a group of local vigilantes take it upon themselves to drive the homeless out of Albany by violent means. During the course of the day, a series of events unfold and change Francis' life forever.



Critical responseEdit

The film received mixed reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 58% based on reviews from 24 critics.[2] At the time of its release it garnered enthusiasm because of the presence of stars Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep.

Roger Ebert wrote, "Nicholson and Streep play drunks in Ironweed, and actors are said to like to play drunks, because it gives them an excuse for overacting. But there is not much visible 'acting' in this movie; the actors are too good for that." Ebert gave the film three stars out of four.[3]

Streep received raves from most critics; Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote that "Meryl Streep, as ever, is uncanny. Miss Streep uses the role of Helen as an opportunity to deliver a stunning impersonation of a darty-eyed, fast-talking woman of the streets, an angry, obdurate woman with great memories and no future. There isn't much more to the film's Helen than this, and indeed the character may go no deeper, but she's a marvel all the same. Behind the runny, red-rimmed eyes, the nervous chatter and the haunted expression, Miss Streep is even more utterly changed than her costar, and she even sings well. The sequence in which Helen entertains the real and imagined patrons of a bar room with a rendition of 'He's Me Pal' is a standout."[4]

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat appreciated the film's spiritual message, writing, "Mixing realistic and surreal scenes, Argentinean director Héctor Babenco puts the accent on what he calls the spiritual dimensions of William Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel... If you ride with the emotional undertow of Ironweed, there's no way you'll ever look at street people in quite the same way".[5]





  1. ^ Ironweed at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ "Ironweed (1987)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 12 January 2020.
  3. ^ Roger Ebert (February, 1988) "Ironweed"
  4. ^ Maslin, Janet. The New York Times (December, 1987) "Ironweed (1987) Film: 'Ironweed,' From Hector Babenco"
  5. ^ Brussat, Frederic and Mary Ann. Spirituality & Practive, film review, February 1988. Last accessed: January 29, 2011.
  6. ^ "16th Moscow International Film Festival (1989)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 2013-03-16. Retrieved 2013-02-24.

External linksEdit