Bleecker Street
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Fran Kranz
Writer: Franz Kranz
Cast: Breeda Wool, Lagen Albright, Michelle N. Carter, Martha Plimpton, Jason Isaacs, Reed Birney, Ann Dowd
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/21/21
Opens: October 8, 2021

What goes through your mind when you get up on Sunday, enjoying your bacon and eggs, and heading to church? Are you doing this mechanically because that’s what you do? Are you looking forward to seeing the folks in your town and getting the latest news? Or are you happily anticipating the beauty of the choir and attentive to the sermon? There are multiple reasons that people attend religious services, but rarely if ever would they head for a special kind of mass, one suited to just four people, without owning a complexity of emotions. Four middle-aged people, Gail (Martha Plimpton), her husband Jay (Jason Isaacs), Richard (Reed Birney) and his wife Linda (Ann Dowd) know that this will be a special day, one of the most urgent and important in their lives. Gail and Jay lost their son in a school shooting some time before, and they are meeting with the parents of the shooter, Richard and Linda. This is an open-ended meeting. No-one is rehearsing a part, no-one knows whether the meeting will end in disgust or at least greater understanding of the absurdity of the killing of a teenage boy and some of his friends. We in the audience go to this filmed service perhaps guessing what the folks will say, since the only preparation we have for the goings-on are the voluntary services of two church officials, Judy (Breeda Wool) and young Anthony (Kagen Albright), who spend too much time at the beginning of the film with tense small talk.

We can gage the seriousness of Fran Kranz who wrote and direct, noting no music in the soundtrack throughout the time that the foursome are together in a side room of the Episcopal Church, filmed by Ryan Jackson-Healy in Sun Valley, Idaho. What is deepest in our minds may be thoughts of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” the dialogue turning into a vindictive squaring of account, with Gail and Jay taking the roles followed by George and Martha in Mike Nichols’ 1966 movie. There are indeed elements of this, but mostly, despite the occasional histrionics to shake up the minutes of crying, despair and exhaustion, we suspect that a reconciliation is at hand.

Fran Kranz’s writer-director debut (he is known for a sturdy résumé of acting roles) is graced by top performances by the four principal actors, who obviously take their roles seriously and may have memorized all the lines spoken throughout the length of the film. In fact one of the benefits of the writings is an ambiguity: it takes us time to learn which couple are the parents of the murdered teen and which represent their killer-son. That’s our indication that all four are in torment. Perhaps the emotions of Gail and Kendra are heightened largely because their own boy, the shooter, is dead, having committed suicide in the school library.

Overwhelmed by the anticipated tensions, they can barely demand information. Who or what is to blame? Is it the presence of guns in the home of the shooter? Was the murderer disturbed? Was the victim bullied? Is the whole sad event precipitated by their experience playing video games? Republican politics? The closest we get to an answer is one that we could have imagined. The shooter had trouble making friends. He might have done better if his parents moved from a rural area to a more suburban location.

He felt isolated. He imagined that an act of mass murder would avenge him in the way that Carrie gave comeuppance to bullies in Stephen King’s “Carrie.” The questions will remain. What we may remember from this film is that parents can feel distraught six years after the horrendous event as though it happened last week, with Martha Plimpton’s performance the finest example of the way that the murder of her the son she loved will overwhelm her life always.

111 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B
Overall – B+

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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