AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2011
By Don Simpson | October 31, 2011
Director: Nancy Savoca
Writers: Nancy Savoca, Mary Tobler
Starring: Mira Sorvino, Tammy Blanchard, Michael Rispoli, Mike Doyle, Patti LuPone, Christopher Backus, Daphne Rubin-Vega
Writer-director Nancy Savoca’s Union Square is a strange little film that seems unsure if it wants to achieve subtle neo-realism via a severely concentrated character study or appeal to the cheap seats as an over-the-top Odd Couple-like comedy. It follows a cartoonishly brash and outlandish babe from the Bronx, Lucy (Mira Sorvino), as she spirals uncontrollably towards a nervous breakdown. With what seems like a well-versed knack for dropping in on people, Lucy arrives at Union Square station to surprise a lover — after some bargain shopping at Filene’s Basement first, of course. When Lucy finally gets the not-so-subtle hint that her lover wants absolutely nothing to do with her, she heads straight to her estranged sister Jenny’s (Tammy Blanchard) apartment.
Jenny is understandably shocked to see Lucy; and assuming that Lucy intends for this to be an extended stay, Jenny comes off as cold and unwelcoming. We then realize that maybe it is just in Jenny’s natural personality to be cold and unwelcoming; just take a look around at her immaculately sterile apartment. You see, Jenny is one of those snobbishly organic, vegetarian types who suffers from the tunnel vision of her holier-than-thou lifestyle. Worst of all, Jenny has disowned her crazy family from the Bronx and developed a fictional past in which she grew up in a idyllic New England household, which is certainly more conducive to her bland granola-light lifestyle. Jenny shares the sterile bubble of her existence with her long-term fiancé, Bill (Mike Doyle), who is understandably confused by Lucy’s sudden appearance…and, more than likely, Lucy’s strong accent as well.
Savoca ensures that the audience develops no empathy or affection for either of the central protagonists, thus making Union Square a somewhat tortuous experience. Personalities are cranked up way past 11 in what turns out to be an acting showcase designed specifically to highlight Sorvino’s dramatic range. Unfortunately, Union Square comes off as being a bit too over-directed, specifically because of some surprising plot twists that come inexplicably from nowhere. This is a story that would have benefited greatly from significantly less amplification of emotions.