What to do while watching:
What to eat while watching:
Mrs. Worsted and I have our methods in picking films. She tends to pick up boxes that have women on the covers, looking off into a hazy distance while the austere countenances of two handsome men stare at her from a faded background. The names of the movies she picks up usually have adverbs in them, as well as prepositional phrases, women's names and names of flowers.
If I'm picking up a film at random, the box usually shows someone with an intent, intense, crazed, or hysterical expression. Often, something strange is happening on the cover--not wacky, mind you, but strange. Titles are often one or two words, nouns and verbs. Something about the packaging leads me to believe that the film aims at cult status, that the offbeat energy is moderate to high.
Though our tastes diverge, both the Mrs. and I are suckers for non-academy award winners. If the box has those tell-tale laurel leaves and the words Cannes, Sundance, Viewer's Choice, or Independent Film Awards, we will give the box a thorough going over before we pass it by, and most often, that's the box we take to the counter. We've rarely been steered wrong. Shower had scads of those laurels, and that was one of the best films we've seen in years. King of Masks was the same story. And very recently, we enjoyed Everybody's Famous (slated for review next week).
As for the Academy Awards, the Mrs. and I don't find them nearly as consistent except that they are all mainstream Hollywood blockbusters. American Beauty? Over-hyped pap that promised characterization but delivered mere cynicism, as far as I'm concerned. Gladiator? It was fun, but really nothing more than a big-budget fighting movie. No, the Motion Picture Academy just doesn't share our taste for moving, human films with or without huge production values, with or without big-name stars.
Raymond De Felitta's Two Family House won the Sundance 2000 Audience Award. Now, though the Mrs. picked this one out, I can grok her thought process: If the audience awarded it, it's probably a good film. The award says to me, "People like this movie," plain and simple. And indeed, I, like people, liked it.
The opening shot is similar to that of the aforementioned American Beauty: an aerial visitation upon a peaceful, green suburb. But whereas Beauty's opening was a sardonic mask soon to be pulled away to reveal and wallow in the sick and cynical soul of a neighborhood, Two Family risks nothing but sappiness, and, for the most part, succeeds in avoiding it. Two Family House "keeps it real," as the kids say.
Set in Staten Island in the mid-50's, TFH tells the story of Buddy (Michael Rispoli), a helplessly small-time blue-collar man, trying hard to make up for a dream deferred: the dream of becoming a famous crooner. His wife, Estelle (Kathrine Narducci) an incorrigibly conformist coward--and a nag to boot--refused to let him audition for Arthur Gottfried's radio show, years ago. Because she thwarted that once-in-a-lifetime chance, Buddy now attempts to launch one failing business venture after another. It's a pretty sad pattern.
Hoping to open a bar, Buddy buys the titular two family house, planning to live upstairs and open a bar below. Will this be another business failure? He has the heart and energy to put into the project, but there are obstacles. He must evict the drunkard husband and young, pregnant wife (Kelly Macdonald) upstairs, which is much easier said than done. But at last, the abusive carbuncle of a husband is sent away, not by Buddy, but by the baby, who turns out very clearly not to be his.
Out of the goodness of his heart, Buddy tries to look after the young mother, in spite of her anger and the friction between their respective cultures. When she finally comes to realize that Buddy really has no ulterior motive, she begins to accept his friendship, and this is the spark of romance.
The spark is fanned by a growing rift between Buddy's perception of himself and the perceptions of him held by his friends and family. Whereas he holds hope for himself, echoed by the Irish romantic interest; his wife, family and friends see big, dumb failure, a dreamer, or, as my culture would put it, a schmuck.
Which reminds me of this joke:
This doesn't illustrate much, but it does entertain and fill up space, that otherwise might be used to give away the ending, which I do not want to do. For you should see it. TFM is downright enjoyable. I liked the music, acting, humor, seeing Big Pussy Bompensiero from the Sopranos, just about everything about it.
Where the corniness shows up is around the race issues. The characters who are racist are so blatant in their prejudices that there can be no subtlety in relationships with them and no hope at all for them to change. Estelle gives Buddy a few good dialogues, in which he can really test his hope for a better life against her fear of appearing anything but normal; but when it comes to the race question, her assumptions are so total, that they kill all possibilities for dialogue. Buddy clams up in one scene, but really it's the script that clams up here.
The bigoted friends and family also make Buddy's liberal attitudes seem all the more out of place and unrealistic. One can easily imagine people coming to open attitudes on their own, but with every other person in Buddy's life parroting intolerance, one wonders how Buddy alone could overcome innate prejudices.
That this is based on a true story, seems a fortunate fact. It means that the possibility does exist for a person to become a better person and to achieve success in spite of social obstacles. I do suspect that the fickleness of Buddy's homies, plus Buddy's own guilelessness, are exaggerated for movie purposes. But no matter. The movie is really quite charming all around.
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.