Brantley Foster, a well-educated kid from Kansas, has always dreamed of making it big in New York. On his first work day in New York, he is fired in a hostile take-over and learns that jobs - and girls - are hard to get. When Brantley visits his distant uncle, Howard Prescott, who runs a multi-million-dollar company, he is given a job in the company's mail room. Then Brantley meets Christy Wills, who happens to be one of the top executives. Brantley sees how poorly the company is being run and decides to create a position under the name Carlton Whitfield, to influence and improve the company's operations. Soon things get unexpectedly out of hand, not in the least because of his aunt, his girl and leading a double life.
The magic of folklore forms the basis of this Irish tale by writer-director John Sayles. Adapted from the book Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry, the 1940s story is told from the point-of-view of Fiona (Jeni Courtney), a young girl sent to live with her grandparents in an Irish fishing town. Her grandfather weaves grand stories about the family's evacuation from their home on the tiny island of Roan Inish and about his great-great grandfather, who once cheated death at the hands of the unforgiving sea. As she meets other villagers, Fiona hears even more personal stories about an uncle who married a beautiful, part-human/ part-seal and about how the sea stole her baby brother during the departure from Roan Inish. Later, Fiona believes that she has found Jamie romping in the grass on Roan Inish, and she must convince the family of her vision. While Roan Inish has the feel of a family film, it shares with other Sayles works a character who learns history through storytelling, such as Sam Deeds in Lone Star (1996) and Dr. Fuentes in Men with Guns (1997). Sayles builds cohesive stories from multiple voices, showing the importance of oral history and indicating that learning the past can alter the future.