Hi y’all. Welcome back to Millennial Misremembers, where I rewatch media from my childhood, just to make sure it wasn’t all some Amoxicillin-fueled fever dream. This time, I’m tackling The Luck of the Irish, which the Disney channel premiered on March 9, 2001. It then played nearly daily every March for years to come, and I probably watched at least half those airings.
As usual, I’m gonna tell you what I think I remember, then I’ll rewatch and recap the movie, so that you too, will know that you didn’t imagine the terrible Irish accents. Prior to diving in, I wanted to do some research on St. Patrick’s Day itself, since we Americans have a tendency to take other people’s holidays and make them about alcohol.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, St. Patrick’s Day started out as an eponymous feast day to honor Ireland’s patron saint, a man who started out as a slave and returned to his native land to convert everyone to Christianity. Later, Irish immigrants in the United States turned the holiday into a secular celebration of Irish heritage. And, the general population of the US, naturally, liked the excuse to party. So, here we are. (Here’s more reading, if you’d like.)
What I (mis)remember!
Since I apparently have no shame, I will share that I 💯% had a crush on Ryan Merriman, who played the lead in The Luck of the Irish. character. I sat through Final Destination for him, and I was not a kid who could handle those things back then. Like, I’m still irrationally afraid of logs, staple guns and subways, thanks to that childhood crush.
I also remember the infamous line (in my mind, at least) between him and the evil leprechaun:
Evil Leprechaun: It’s not ‘Eerie,’ it’s ‘Éire’
Ryan Merriman: I live in Michigan!
For some reason, that causes the baddie to die?
Also, I believe there’s some story about potato chips that involves Ryan Merriman’s character’s grandfather. Also, also, I think Ryan Merriman and his whole family are leprechauns … because all Irish people are leprechauns or something? There were also some truly horrendous accents being played off as “Irish.” And I’m sure the movie is gonna be totally offensive, too.
I can’t wait to figure out the actual plot!
Oh great! We open on some great photosensitivity triggers. Flashing lights ftw. Kyle (Merriman) is at a Heritage Day Festival with some seriously malfunctioning lights. He bemoans the fact that everyone else in the world has a heritage, a family history.
Oh my. This is actually a nightmare. Literally. When Kyle is called to perform, he turns tiny (think Thumbelina) and no one can hear him. Poor Kyle thinks he’s the only person in the world who doesn’t have a heritage, the only one who’s different.
That makes for a great premise, truly. A lot of non-US-Americans (me) ask why we’re so obsessed with being “hyphenates.” The answer lies here. To oversimplify: apart from members of American Indian tribes, most US-Americans can’t trace their roots in the US back far enough to consider their ethnicities truly “American.”
Anyhoo, Kyles mom, Kate (Marita Geraghty) wakes him up. Today is a big day! His dad, Bob (Paul Kiernan) rushes into the living room, waving a pompon, shouting “Go, Eagles!”
Kyle tries to talk about his nightmare, but his parents completely dismiss his concerns about Heritage Day. When he asks where their family is from, Bob replies, “We moved here from Cleveland.”
Kate adds that they’re Americans and that’s all the heritage they need. Oh, but Kyle, she says, “Don’t forget your lucky coin!” His lucky coin that looks super Irish.
Kyle, the clever kid that he is, thinks his parents are hiding something from him. He doesn’t have too much time to ponder, though, because our protagonist is a basketball superstar who needs to worry about leading his team to number one!
He and everyone else keep talking about how lucky he is. Hmm … could his success possibly have anything to do with his lucky coin?
Next, Bonnie (Alexis Lopez) corners Kyle to ask him whether he’s participating in Heritage Day. Rather than talk about his true feelings, Kyle is all, Heritage Day is stupid, sports are where it’s at.
But, Bonnie won’t let it go! She says that the US is a nation of immigrants and that everyone’s family came from somewhere. From next to them, Russell (Glenndon Chatman) quips that yah, that’s true! In fact, he’s part Cherokee! Touché. But like, also Bonnie, maybe you ought not to be this pushy about this ish next to a Black person in the Americas?
WOAH. Well if this isn’t the biggest load of crap. Kyle’s in history class and they’re looking at a map of immigration patterns to the US. Do you see anything wrong with this picture?
So, Kyle is supposed to be taking a test, but instead, he’s staring into space and when the bell rings, he just marks a bunch of random answers. Thanks to his luck, they’re all correct, and Kyle, the white kid, doesn’t get accused of cheating or anything.
That night, at dinner, Kyle asks his mom if the noodle dish she’s serving is an old family recipe. His dad changes the subject so quickly I’m surprised he doesn’t get whiplash. But OK, the creepy way his family talks and the fish-eye lens that accompanies is so funny. They couldn’t be any more obvious if they tried.
Kyle keeps pushing, though. He insists that if they’re not American Indians, they must have come from another country. Kate doesn’t understand why he suddenly cares. They keep trying to deflect by shouting that he doesn’t have to be obsessed with his heritage just because everyone else is. Welcome to Bad Parenting 101, y’all. I mean, at this point they are borderline gaslighting him.
The next day at school, Kyle uses a candy-colored iMac to search for his last name, Johnson, but is met with four million results. Bonnie comes over to him and mocks him for liking sports, but then tries to help him narrow down his search. She asks for his mother’s maiden name, which he doesn’t know. He’s never really even thought about his mom’s family before. Sigh.
After school, Kyle goes snooping around the house. He quickly locates his dad’s high school yearbook and finds out his dad’s name isn’t even Bob Johnson, it’s Robert Smith! Just a suggestion, but if you’re trying to hide your leprechaun heritage from your kid, maybe don’t leave incriminating documents out in the open like that?
Kate comes home and Kyle hightails it out of there, but she realizes he’s been snooping. While shooting some hoops, Russel and Kyle try to figure out why someone would change their name from something banal like Smith to something equally bland. Russel suggests they might be in witness protection. Or, aliens.
At school the next day, Russel’s still complaining about how lucky Kyle is and says, “Hey, maybe it’s your charm.” Then, they see a flyer for a show by Seamus McTiernen (Timothy Omundson). On the flyer is a symbol that matches Kyle’s coin. Oh, my goodness, he’s IRISH.
So, Kyle and Russel go to this Irish festival. Everyone is glaring at them for whatever reason. But there’s some cool step dancing and a lot of people sporting shamrocks. Hahaha there’s even a book called Everything you ever wanted to know about Being Irish but were afraid to ask (seriously that’s how it’s punctuated).
I don’t know. Does it make sense that Russel can’t understand why Kyle cares so much about his heritage? Sure, this was a good fifteen years before genealogy sites became a thing, but I’ve met so few POC people, especially Black people, who don’t care about their heritage. I would think Russel would at least understand that longing, even if he didn’t himself feel it.
Next, an elderly Irish man, named, no joke, Reilly O’Reilly (Henry Gibson), comes up to the boys and asks Kyle if he makes his own shoes. All right. He shows off his own shoes, which are made with Irish leather, that is “tough as a landlord’s heart.” All right. His home-cobbled shoes have a serpent on the sole, which feels like it will be important. Then, Reilly plays a magic trick with some coins and disappears.
Then, the boys watch Seamus’s show. Y’all, step dancing is just cool. I mean, Seamus himself is super hokey, though. Hahaha. Kyle immediately knows the steps and dances along, but the fact that Disney is using doubles is so blatantly obvious, I just can’t.
The next morning, Kyle sleeps through his alarm, then drops one of his trophies on his foot. When he goes downstairs, Kate greets him with a “top of the morning to you” and a whole new look. She’s also cooking an Irish breakfast. But Kate’s not the only one going through changes. Kyle himself is sounding a “wee bit” Irish.
Kate also has something to tell her son: her family is Irish. She says she hadn’t wanted to tell him because she wanted to protect him from the immense prejudice faced by the Irish when they first came to the US. He doesn’t think that’s a great excuse, seeing as that was a long while ago. (Vox has a great explainer unpacking the history of ‘No Irish Need Apply.’)
But now she’s coming full out of the closet, ’cause she’s even packed him a pail full of crubeens and colcannon for his lunch.
Kyle is so weirded out by everything that he no longer cares about his dad’s name change.
Unfortunately, his mom’s behavioral changes are the least of Kyle’s worries. His luck has gone south. He’s losing his homework, spilling water on his pants, losing his money, etc. And, turns out without his lucky coin, Kyle sucks at basketball.
Next, Bonnie drops by the basketball court to drop horrific Irish stereotypes, mock Kyle’s basketball skills and get an update on his Heritage Day plans. When he says he’ll step dance, she mocks him again. Girl.
Apparently, Bonnie’s true beef with Kyle stems from jealousy. She doesn’t like how everything comes so easily to him. She thinks Kyle won the Eagles’ last basketball game because he got lucky. Umm. Is this movie about Kyle’s white privilege? But also, before Kyle’s luck got taken away, did we have definite proof he wasn’t good at basketball?
Kyle calls her out on that, but she insists she knows her basketball and lands a shot from pretty far away. She, unlike Kyle, practices, you see. Kyle doesn’t practice? He’s literally at practice right now. I’m not disputing that Kyle is lucky or that he has white privilege, but Bonnie, this is not the way.
That night, Kyle totally bombs the game. To my mind, this is a coaching issue. If the team cannot win a game just because one player is having a bad night, that’s not that player’s fault! Oh. They did win anyway. Kyle’s just being a brat.
When Kyle gets up the next morning, he realizes he’s shrunk, and Kate is burning peat in the fireplace. Ruh-roh.
Man, movie teenagers gonna teenage. Kyle’s classmates are totally rude to him about his lousy performance in the game the night previous. Y’all made it to the finals. Chill.
In science class, the kids are playing with magnets. Science fact alert! Magnets don’t attract gold. Why then, does Kyle’s lucky gold coin attach to the magnet? Because it’s the imposter among us!
Bonnie comes up to apologize to Kyle, while he’s frantically trying to call his mom to tell her about the coin, so he does not care. Also, Kyle’s now got 90s frosted tips, except they’re red. And he’s got pointy ears! And and “Oh Saints persevere us, I’m getting shorter!”
Back home, Kate’s gone full leprechaun. Kyle’s parents blame it on an allergic reaction. But, they do finally come clean. They reveal that Kyle’s also a leprechaun. By the way, Bob’s not a leprechaun; he is, actually, from Cleveland.
His family doesn’t know how long this “allergic” reaction will last, considering it’s never happened before. It’s Kyle’s lucky coin that keeps them passing all human and stuff. The lucky coin that Kyle’s wearing. Except, right, it’s not the real lucky coin.
You know, folks, you reap what you sow. Kyle tells his ‘rents someone probably switched out his coin at the Irish fair he went to. They get mad ’cause he’s not supposed to go to the fair grounds without permission. But he only went because they hid his heritage from him. At least Kate recognizes that.
We learn that Reilly O’Reilly is Kyle’s grandda (the snake shoes works into the reveal). He also owns the Emerald Isle potato chips everyone all over town is always conspicuously munching on. But, I don’t quite follow Kate’s and Bob’s logic that Reilly is responsible for stealing the coin. Why would the CEO of a large company want to turn into a leprechaun?
Still, the Johnsons go to visit Reilly at his chip factory. While they wait for him, Kyle asks Bob why Reilly isn’t part of his life. Well, it’s because Bob isn’t a leprechaun and leprechauns don’t believe in “mixed-marriages.” My goodness. They even moved to Cleveland and changed their names so Kate’s family wouldn’t find them. Kyle doesn’t get why “mixed-marriages” are a problem, if his parents love each other. His dad says, no lie, sometimes leprechauns are “small minded.” Oh dear.
Everyone who works at this factor is Irish (from Ireland). The security guard says Reilly won’t see Kyle, insisting he doesn’t have a daughter. They get literally kicked out of the building.
But, remember, Kyle is a clever kid, and so, joins up with a tour group, which happens to be some Young Achievers thing that Bonnie is part of. The tour guide tells the group that potato chips were invented in the 1800s when a cook accidentally cut potatoes too thin and discovered they got crispy. The real history of the potato chip is not so clear.
Bonnie sees Kyle after he asks some really suspicious questions about Reilly. I love this exchange about why Kyle’s there:
Bonnie: You’re not a Young Achiever.
Kyle: I have to talk to Mr. O’Reilly.
Kyle: Remember how I told you my coin was stolen? Well, I think he’s the one that took it.
Bonnie: He’s like a millionaire, why would he steal your coin?
Kyle: Because he’s my grandfather.
Bonnie: Why would your grandfather steal your coin?
Kyle: Do you have to know everything?
The security guard sees them arguing on camera and speaks into his radio, “I think we have intruders.” Oh my. The accent! While they’re running away from all the guards, Kyle tries to explain the whole leprechaun thing and Bonnie is v. confused, naturally.
Kyle does end up getting his wish to see his grandfather granted (see y’all, crime does pay). Bonnie sees Kyle’s ears and finally gets it: he’s a leprechaun. Reilly leads his grandson to his office, again trying to convince him to start making his own shoes (it’s good for the soul, he says. Or is it the sole?).
Why has Reilly not turned into a leprechaun? They keep referring to the coin as the luck of the clan O’Reilly. That would include Reilly, no? Regardless, Reilly is adamant he didn’t steal the coin. In fact, he’s sure Kate did, just so Kyle would turn against him.
Oh. Reilly says he’s not changing as fast ‘cuz he’s old or something. Maybe Disney didn’t have the budget. Reilly’s super mad at Kyle for losing the O’Reilly luck ‘cuz it’s the only thing that got the family through a thousand years of Really Bad Things in Ireland, and then, the US. (BTW, Kyle was entrusted with the luck since he’s the youngest of the clan and the young always have all the luck. Lolololol /s)
Reilly wails on and on about how their family is done for now that they don’t have luck on their side anymore. Bonnie says he shouldn’t worry, their hard work can make up the difference. Reilly insists luck is what helped him buy the factory, invent the potato chip, etc. It’s a fascinating concept, isn’t it, attributing every win in your life to luck?
There are many successful people who don’t acknowledge that luck played any part in their success. Up till now, Kyle has been one of those people. Meanwhile, we have these older members of the clan O’Reilly who think nothing but luck has gotten them through life. They can’t recognize that maybe, sometimes, we create our own luck.
So, Bonnie’s out here trying to come up with active solutions and grandda starts playing on the flute (‘cuz that’s how the Irish manifest despair, apparently). And Kyle starts step dancing along. When Kyle brings up Seamus and the fair, Reilly’s all, oh yah, that fear daraig leprechaun totes stole our luck.
Outside, Reilly meets Bob for the first time and then he starts to insult his daughter, who swiftly punches him. Yaaas. Also, we learn that Kate (understandably) lied to her father when she first hooked up with Bob, telling him he “hailed from the shores of Eerie.” She knew her da would mishear.
Kyle yells at them all to stop! The past is the past and they gotta worry about TODAY. They all sort of reach a truce about the marriage, but it’s gross because Kate ends up apologizing and Reilly won’t even shake Bob’s hand.
Off they go to get their coin back! Bonnie joins them on their adventure because she doesn’t even like the Young Achievers. She wanted to play basketball, but her parents made her do Young Achievers because it’d look better on her college apps. On the way to Seamus’s, they run into Russel, who also joins their crew. I love how Bonnie and Russel just take this all in stride.
At the fair ground, Bob goes to check out the situation, but Seamus catches him right away. Cue: low-speed car versus tourbus chase! Side note: it’s funny watching this as an adult because now I’m sitting here thinking, “Wow. Seamus can get it.”
Seamus and crew win the race because Reilly blows a tire and doesn’t have a spare ‘cuz he’s never needed one before. Kyle tells Russel to go home and get ready for their game without him. Kyle is having a rough time realizing that he was never actually good at sports, and that it was just his luck making him succeed.
Bob finally apologizes for keeping all of this from him. And Bonnie proves herself to be the worst comforter ever, telling Kyle things could be worse. Then, it starts pouring rain.
Bonnie again insists that they can turn their own luck around. She uses the example of how bad things were for the Irish when they first came to the US. When she says that they weren’t paid what they deserved, Russel chimes in to say that at least they were paid. God, this movie is trying, but … Also like, I’m not sure exactly what Bonnie’s heritage is, but I’m pretty sure she’s Latina, and for sure a person of color, so while what she’s saying is true, it feels … incomplete.
Bonnie ends her speech like this: “I’m an American. We all are, and Americans don’t give up.” The rain stops, which just re-motivates everyone.
What comes after the rain, y’all? That’s right, a rainbow. And what’s at the end of a rainbow? Yurp. A pot of gold. Kyle, Russel and Reilly run towards the rainbow. Silly leprechauns, you can’t actually reach the end of a rainbow, says Russel. Sadly, rainbow science is no match for leprechaun lore.
The rainbow leads them to a pub, where Seamus and his pals singing songs, celebrating something. While they’re occupied, Reilly and Kyle sneak into the tourbus and break into Seamus’s safe to get their luck back.
Kyle immediately finds his luck among the pot of gold. Reilly’s too tempted, though, and wants to take all the booty. The two stay there for a while, arguing. Back inside, Seamus’s spidey senses are tingling.
Kyle tells Riley “they” didn’t come to America to steal! Reilly says having his grandson count himself among the “Little People” is worth a pot of gold in and of itself, so they leave it be. Kyle puts his real coin back on, and his human disguise is restored.
Unfortunately, all that arguing has given Seamus enough time to magically kidnap Reilly and Russell. To save them, Kyle makes a bet with Seamus for their freedom and the coin. Kyle is sure he can beat Seamus at sports. They shake on it, and Kyle and Russel et al are transported to (ancient?) Ireland to do some hurling. With his luck restored, Kyle is very good. But, of course, so is Seamus.
While they’re wrestling, Seamus tells Kyle his whole evil plan. He’s out to steal the luck of all the leprechauns in America, so he can have power over all of them. OK. Seamus tells Kyle that US-American leprechauns will realize just how unwelcome they are once they are “Little People” again and look different. Wow. Besides the obvious WOW with that statement, is The Luck of the Irish implying that all Irish-Americans are leprechauns?
Kyle and Seamus tie, which Seamus says means Kyle’s lost the bet. The exact terms of their bet were that Kyle must beat Seamus at sports. In a last ditch effort, Kyle then bets he can beat Seamus at basketball, even without his luck. If he loses, he’ll be Seamus’s slave. Yes, that is the term The Luck of the Irish uses. If Kyle wins, not only will he get his luck back, but Seamus will be destined to live in the land of Kyle’s fathers and never again leave the shores of “Eerie.”
Next, the group magically transports back to the Eagles’s basketball finals, with Seamus disguised as one of the players on the other team. Reilly is chained to one of the hoops, discouraging Kyle all the way. He wants Kyle to run because he doesn’t think he can win without his luck.
Reilly gives Russel a
placebo gold coin, which works for him. Strange how Reilly can recognize that luck lives inside Russell, but not that it lives inside his own family. Thankfully, the lesson is not lost on Kyle, and he has the turnaround of the century. His team wins in literally the last second, by two points. Then crowd around them disappears, except for our main cast.
Seamus is a sore loser. He’s like, yeah, OK, I lost this gold, but I’ve got a whole pot on the bus! Kyle reminds him of the rest of their bet. Seamus is still laughing, thinking he’s going home to Ireland to become King Leprechaun. But, but but:
Kyle: I said the shores of Erie.
Seamus: Would you at least learn how to say it? The land of your fathers isn’t “Erie,” boyo. It’s Éire.
Kyle: My father’s from Cleveland.
Dammit. I was so close.
Then, Seamus shrieks, shrinks and disappears “to live forever within the shores of Lake Erie.” Time unpauses and Kyle is once again a hero, but so is Russell! Everyone celebrates.
Meanwhile, Bonnie’s dad wants to know where the heck she’s been all day. Reilly intervenes to say she’s been interviewing for their college scholarship program. LOL. They’re still in junior high. Mr. Lopez (Julio Arciniega) is thrilled, and even insists that Bonnie will play basketball next year when Reilly says she needs to be more well-rounded to win the scholarship. UGH.
It’s Heritage Day! Kyle step dances while wearing a Cleveland Browns shirt, standing in front of a giant American flag. Cute. Oh no! He starts singing “This Land is Your Land” and Bonnie comes out to join him. The audience joins in.
Freeze frame! Credits.
Does it live up to the nostalgia?
There are many things I liked about The Luck of the Irish. I hadn’t remembered how much of it was about the desire to know where you come from, which is really important for a lot of people, especially young’uns. Some lines were genuinely funny, and the easy-breezy plot was fun. But, is this movie offensive to Irish people? Unfortunately, yes.
Wowee was this American propaganda. Here, we have a story featuring three kids from backgrounds that have it / have had it rough in America. The Luck of the Irish is trying really hard to act like racism is a thing of the past, while barely even acknowledging racism faced by Black people in said past, let alone any racism ever experienced by Latinos.
Look, this isn’t a case of whataboutism or trying to diminish what Irish people have gone through in their history. Nor am I saying that any American media that mentions any sort of racism or prejudice must talk about slavery, but when your topic is Heritage Day in America and your Irish lead has a best friend who is Black and another good friend who is Latina, it doesn’t make sense not to connect the parallels you’ve already begun drawing. It also doesn’t make sense to use lazy stereotypes in a movie about how bad prejudice is.
Ultimately, though, I think for an early, early aughts’ movie, The Luck of the Irish definitely tried. This movie would be really cool rewritten as a YA novel in 2022. A book would allow for the breadth and sensitivity to deal with the complicated themes the movie only touched upon and would hopefully do it without making a mockery of Irish people.
That’s all I got for you this time! Join me next week for another edition of Millennial Misremembers!