A Shine of Rainbows is a small Candadian/Irish production with its heart in the right place, intertwining beautiful cinematography and emotional performances with a warm and poignant tale about finding (and embracing) familial love and acceptance. Now if only the movie had that certain little something to make it as special as it might have been.
Eight-year-old Tomás (newcomer John Bell, who looks like the Irish version of a young Macaulay Culkin) is a sweet-mannered but shy and lonely orphan in Ireland, picked on by the bullies at the orphanage. His life quickly changes for the better with the arrival of Maire (Connie Nielsen of Gladiator ), a kind woman dressed in radiant yellow that brightens the dull grey of his existence. Unable to have children of her own with husband Alec (Aidan Quinn of Legends of the Fall ), she adopts Tomás without even meeting him (and for that matter, without Alec's specific approval).
Maire immediately whisks Tomás off from the city to her picturesque, rural cottage home on Corrie Island offshore. She's the perfect mother, overflowing with love and care. The room is already made up for Tomás when he arrives, with clothes made just for him. She's quick to teach the boy how to cook and how to care for the chickens they keep. She also encourages him to let loose and enjoy the simple things in life, like puddle splashing in the rain and entertaining local legends such as the magic of rainbows and "talking" to sea lions (considered messengers to loved ones who have passed on).
Tomás soon befriends a couple classmates—siblings Seamus and Nancy—and before long, he's adapted to the town, slowly coming out of his shell. In fact, he'd be perfectly home were it not for the intimidating and gruff presence of Alec. Tomás stammers whenever the would-be father engages him in conversation (not very often), and even freezes at the sight of the grizzled Irishman from across the landscape.
It's not that Alec doesn't want a son, but rather that Tomás doesn't live up to his expectations. Longing for a stronger, more outgoing child, he fears that Maire has picked a runt rather than a young man.
Meanwhile, in response to the love he's been shown, Tomás attempts to pay it forward by caring for a beached sea lion pup. But his time on Corrie Island may be short since the adoption agency is checking in to make sure everyone is happy—and Alec has yet to sign the papers that officially claim Tomás as his son.
That sums up much of the movie's first half; to share any more would reveal too much. But I never doubted where the story was headed—just how it would reach its inevitable conclusion.
The film is based on a short novel by Lillian Beckwith by the same name. Though the pacing between scenes is fine, precious little happens in the first 45 minutes beyond several everyday moments of Maire and Tomás bonding together. There's plenty of sweetness and a little bit of character development, but not much in the way of story advancement—because there's not much story to advance.