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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Endearing Performance By Minnie Driver, June 16, 2000
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This review is from: Circle of Friends [VHS] (VHS Tape)
An endearing, Oscar worthy performance by Minnie Driver highlights "Circle of Friends," a poignant story of friendship, love and loyalty, set in 1957 Ireland, directed by Pat O'Connor. Driver stars as Bernadette "Benny" Hogan, a sensitive, somewhat self-conscious young lady (she sees herself as plain and over-weight), about to enter the University of Dublin, along with her two, life-long friends, Eve (Geraldine O'Rawe), and Nan (Saffron Burrows). At school she meets rugby star and med student Jack Foley (Chris O'Donnell), and falls in love with him; and, once he gets to know her, (and after a somewhat tenuous beginning), Jack realizes that he loves Benny, as well. Conflict intervenes upon their romance, however, and complications ensue when circumstances force them into a prolonged separation. Benny's home is a bus ride away from Dublin, and it becomes necessary for her to stay for awhile and help with the family store. Ultimately, it leads to an incident involving Jack and Nan, when Jack becomes unwittingly drawn into a particularly sensitive and unpleasant situation which has recently arisen between Nan and her wealthy suitor, Simon Westward (Colin Firth). Driver is the real story here, though, as she gives an incredibly touching performance that so adeptly conveys Benny's sensitivities; she is Benny from the inside out, wearing her heart on her sleeve and so vulnerable to the pain that life can seemingly inflict at will. She is so winsome, and accessible, that it enables you to share her joy and feel her pain; all due to Driver's incredible ability to make such an absolute emotional connection between her Benny and the audience. And having the capacity to evoke such empathy underscores what a truly gifted actress Driver is. As Jack, Chris O'Donnell gives one of his finest performances to date, as well. He manages to delve beneath the surface to tap Jack's indecisiveness, his self-confidence tinged with doubt, while fleshing out the moral aptitude which defines him, and it's reassuring to know that there's so much more to him than being the star jock of the rugby team, because Benny deserves more than that. The audience's identification with Benny is so strong that her endeavors must be rewarded with a man worthy of her affection; for Jack to be any less than he is would be unacceptable and unsatisfying. The wonderful supporting cast includes Alan Cumming (Sean), Mick Lally (Dan Hogan), Ciaran Hinds (Professor Flynn), John Kavanagh (Brian Mahon) and Britta Smith (Mrs. Hogan). Superbly acted and well directed, "Circle of Friends" is a captivating, memorable film, visually attractive and complimented by an engaging soundtrack of lilting, Irish melodies, and Benny is a young woman you'll take into your heart and keep there; for she is unforgettable. This is one of those rare films that penetrates the soul and takes a real look at the human condition, and how fragile at times it can be. It will make you think; but above all, it will make you feel.
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