Title: Union Square
Director: Nancy Savoca
Starring: Mira Sorvino, Tammy Blanchard, Mike Doyle, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Michael Rispoli, Patti Lupone
A half-sketched tale of familial floundering, Nancy Savoca’s “Union Square” is a suffocating and pantomimed sisterly drama that makes an unconvincing and headlong dive into sentimentality for its finale, wasting a lot of effort and investment from lead actress Mira Sorvino.
The “Mighty Aphrodite” Oscar winner stars as Lucy-from-the-Bronx, a self-involved, perpetually frazzled Loud Talker who, with Thanksgiving looming, hits New York City proper for some shopping and a rendezvous with a guy she believes to be her boyfriend. Spurned repeatedly over the phone, Lucy nearly undergoes a nervous breakdown, and shows up at the apartment of her estranged sister Jenny (Tammy Blanchard). Easily cowed and full of shame, Jenny has shed most of the effects of her damaged upbringing and buried the rest, seeking solace in the arms of her doltish, live-in fiance, Bill (Mike Doyle), and even going so far as to tell him she’s from Maine. Together, Jenny and Bill run a small online organic foods business, and are in mid-preparation for their wedding in six months. The voluble Lucy, however, decides that she (and her little dog) need a place to crash for a few days. Soon, old recriminations bubble up.
Savoca, who’s worked mainly in television since her 1989 Sundance-minted debut, “True Love,” may never again touch the grace of “If These Walls Could Talk,” which she co-wrote and directed for HBO. Clumsy and strident, “Union Square” certainly evinces no great reason for existence, or enough of a sharply defined point-of-view or sense of stakes as to mark it in any real way as discerning about the human condition. So it’s no small wonder when its production notes reveal its moment of inception as a friendly bitch session on the state of independent film at which producer Neda Armian offered up her apartment for the filming of a guerilla-style, low-budget feature.
Co-written with Mary Tobler, ”Union Square” is devised, then, with all of these parameters (of space, actors and type of story) in mind. But it’s not merely that the movie feels cramped (eschewing handheld camerawork in favor of boxy formalism, Savoca and cinematographer Lisa Leone fail to figure out a way to open up the apartment space that dominates the film’s middle) and lifeless; it offers no significantly deep insights into its characters, beyond a well-tailored set of pedestrian baggage. “Union Square” recalls plenty of other thorny big screen sister relationships, including “Margot at the Wedding,” “Rachel Getting Married” and “Pieces of April,” to name but a few. The complications here, though, are given surface-style treatment, and eventually swept aside for a strange and emotionally phony ending.
Sorvino does a good job of channeling Lucy’s angsty, overwhelming energy; it’s actually a credit to her performance that you kind of want to strangle or slap her character. Like Lesley Manville in Mike Leigh’s “Another Year” (albeit in different fashion), she’s a totally suffocating presence, an unending cascade of breaking waves of neediness. The other performances, though, fail to catch fire. It doesn’t help poor Blanchard that she’s playing a doormat, but even an inversion which is meant to reverse audience sympathies with respect to the characters provides no relief from her dour, unimaginative reading of Jenny. Doyle, meanwhile, registers as a complete zero. Movies characters need not all be likable or interesting. But “Union Square” has so few characters that it would certainly help if at least one of them were, in even the most remote fashion.
Written by: Brent Simon