Boy meets God, boy gets girl, boy loses girl and God, all to a soundtrack by Dee Dee Ramone.
When Francis Kelly was a kid, he had one of those religious experiences his older sister Clare had read about but never believed could really happen . . . but it did. Not that she’s going to cut him any slack; he’s still her dorky little brother whose only saving grace is that he shares her taste in music, specifically the punk-rock bands of the late ’70s and ’80s. Francis doesn’t quite know what to do about the whole moment-of-ecstasy thing, either, so he and Clare, the unsentimental, wise-cracking narrator of this family’s story, just go on with their day-to-day lives, which include ragging on their Catholic activist parents, cadging under-age admittance to music clubs and going to Sunday mass. Years pass. Both kids go to college and then settle in Boston. Their parents move to Central America to continue their missionary work and lecture the hierarchy of the Catholic Church from afar. Clare becomes a hospice nurse. Francis sets up youth groups for the diocese. His musical knowledge and kindness make him a hit. Years pass. Clare gets married, has two kids, wonders if Francis should have become a priest all along, until the day he meets the girl of his dreams, Lourdes, an oncologist at Mass General Hospital. They marry and all’s right with the world until tragedy drives them apart and no amount of prayer or healing masses can change things. About the same time, the Cardinal Francis works for is implicated in a pedophilia scandal, and Francis’s crisis of faith becomes a full-blown hatred for God, a dark night of the soul that can be assuaged only by the rank rage of the punk rock heroes of Clare and Francis’s youth.
How the Ramones (and rock’s original anti-heroes, The Who) save the day, is the pleasing twist to this sweet Nick-Hornby-meets-Graham-Greene tragi-comedy from Halpin (Donorboy, 2004, etc.).