Robert K. Stephen
(WINDSOR, ON) – If you are expecting me to recommend the movie “Union Square” I am still undecided. The film has been shown at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival and is set for commercial release in North America on July 13th. I have seen the film twice and unfortunately am unable to say thumbs up or thumbs down. How do you deal with a un-opinionated reviewer? I can say that I love New York City’s Union Square’s Saturday Market where ultra-urbanites can get a taste of the country with vendors proffering fresh fruit, veggies, wine, meats and seafood. Is the film “Union Square” some simile of Lucy from the Bronx being introduced to New York City like a piece of cabbage? The film starts with Lucy stumbling about Union Square on a shopping expedition.
What I can tell you is that Tammy Blanchard who plays “Jenny” delivers a solid, impressive and a Oscar-worthy performance as a very tightly wound woman who, despite her organic Manhattanistic conversion, can’t deny her rough and ready Bronx roots. Her sister Lucy (Mira Sorvino) is the ostensible opposite of Jenny and after not seeing Lucy for over 3 years suffers her arrival at her condo in Manhattan. Suffer is the operative word here as Jenny has escaped her Bronx roots and is shacked up with Bill in a swanky condo with a view of the Empire State Building. Bill and Jenny run an organic food business or is Bill running Jenny who does all the cooking and the grunt work while Bill runs and trains for a marathon? Ms. Blanchard drips with tension and inner torment throughout the movie and we feel with her as Lucy plays a self-obsessed, loud, obnoxious and slightly bullying sister. Ms. Blanchard absolutely dominates and controls this film for its first 41 minutes while Mira Sorvino is cast in an overly stereotypical Bronx lady role. She does the best job possible but the script is weak and prone to playing up the Bronx stereotype. I think I am back in Scorsese’s Goodfellas or the Sopranos in terms of Lucy’s character depth. Jenny has overcome the crude Bronx inner self as did Liza in “My Fair Lady”. And that is the tremendous struggle we see in the film. Will circumstances rip out the wild Bronx mustang character of Jenny who is starving with the organic food she is consuming and seems craving for a cigarette and sleeping pills to give her a good sleep with her uptight upper crust perfect boyfriend Bill?
Suddenly after admiring Blanchard’s performance, possibly because Sorvino’s 41 first minutes have been poorly written, we see Sorvino and Blanchard explode on a bridge suicide scene with gut wrenching raw acting that finally lurches the film forward in fast gear. Too bad it took Sorvino this long to display her acting talent that won her a 1995 Academy Award for best supporting actress in” Mighty Aphrodite”. Lucy is brash, selfish, self-obsessed with a nasty and very thin sarcastic vein and somewhat accurate sense about Jenny. Jenny has conveniently forgotten her Bronx background telling dear Bill she is from Maine and her sister Lucy is visiting from Maine but the reality is Lucy has taken the subway into Manhattan from the Bronx. Lucy’s outrageous behaviour causes Jenny terrible stress but eventually draws Jenny out of her repressed tofu organic background. Lucy is first introduced to us texting and speaking to Jay her lover that clearly wants little to do with the unbalanced Lucy who takes her unhappiness out by therapeutic shopping at DSW and Filenes and appears as a Bronx princess in tacky outfits .We see that Jay is but a passing fancy and Lucy is married with an equally Godfella and loveable husband and son. Both Lucy and Jenny are very unhappy. Is it because of their suicidal mother’s death that Jenny has not been informed of?
I love the voice of Jay on Lucy’s Blackberry fading in and out during the initial segments of the movie. A Blackberry being a character. Brilliant parody of Hal the computer on Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey 2001! Jay the Blackberry assumes a role on the screen. Innovative but hardly new but so far in the past you might think it new and refreshing if you did not know cinematographic history!
The visit to Jenny’s condo by Lucy’s friend Sarah accentuates the tension poor Jenny is suffering as Lucy and
Sarah consume vast quantities of “organic” vodka gimlets. Jenny is further mortified that Lucy has brought a dog
named Murray to her condo not knowing that Murray is her late mother’s dog. As much as she tries poor Jenny can’t brush her teeth enough to escape the difficult position she is facing .Neither can she shampoo out the” cheap booze and cigarettes” Bill smells in her hair one night after Jenny follows distraught Lucy into a Manhattan club in the early morning hours. Bill played by Mike Doyle, puts in a very good performance as a straight assed Westchester boy tolerating a rough and tumble girl from Maine (yeah right these rich suburbanite boys from Westchester are suckers). Mr. Organic Bill Boy faces Lucy’s husband (yes Jay the Blackberry character is a lover boy) at an organic Thanksgiving feast and happily announces the contaminants in food “are the best part of the food”! New York’s cute urban ass kicked by Bronx again! Love it!
Poor Jenny has not been told about her mother’s death or has she been told but refused to reply to Lucy’s voicemails begging her to call her? Jenny has been hiding her identity from Bill. She must now reveal it. It all explodes in a rather mushy mess. Whether it is overdone and mushy is up to you. One thing I can recommend to you is place a close eye to Tammy Blanchard’s performance as completely natural and well written. Mira Sorvino displays her acting ability only after 41 minutes. Before that she is poorly served by the script. The ending is a bit teary but is held together by the trust and sincerity we have developed with Tammy Blanchard. Is there some award we can give this lady?
(Union Square, USA, 2011, Director Nancy Savoca, 80 Minutes)