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IN SHORT: A
sweet love story, with edges sharper than steel. [Rated
R for language and brief sexuality. 104 minutes]
Featuring faces from the supporting cast of HBO's The Sopranos, with language to match, Two Family House demonstrates just how wide the ethnic gulf was and, racial feelings were, back in 1956. At its root, Two Family House is a story of how far one man will go to pursue his dreams. At its surface, it is reminiscent of a long ago radio show called The Bickersons, in which husband and wife were constantly fighting. In this story, though, there is rarely a happy ending . . . until, of course, you get to one.
Welcome to an Italian community on Staten Island, New York in 1956. Once upon a time Buddy Visalo (Michael Rispoli), uniformed entertainer during World War II, is seen performing Arthur Godfrey. Godfrey, well-known from the radio (and soon to be television), tells Buddy to give him a call when the war is over, implying that there may be a job in the high paying world of broadcast entertainment. Try explaining that to the love of Buddy's wife Estelle (Katherine Narducci). Or Estelle's mother. Or the rest of her family, all of whom insist that Buddy get a "real" job (in this case working in a bakery factory) before he marries Estelle, or else. And, by the way, but he has to make the decision now or the wedding is off.
Let us remind you of the fact that casual sex was not a casual thing back around World War II, or so we have been told. At least, not in really good Catholic families. So Buddy and Estelle spend 11 years in a twin sized bed in momma's house.
The guy's got ambition. He tries, again and again, to come up with a workable business (limousine service, painter, pizza delivery) that will get him independence from a 12 hour a day grind at the factory and the life in hell his mother in law's house offers. Buddy wants a home. He wants a business, and a two family run down house in Staten Island seems to be the answer to his dreams -- actually, run down is a complement. If there had been a This Old House in 1956, even they would've condemned the place. In the house, there's a large apartment upstairs, and a grand space downstairs that will make a perfect bar and lounge.
Only problem with the plan is that there's an Irish couple in the house. Jim O'Neary (Kevin Conway) is a drunk. Wife Mary (Kelly Macdonald) is about to drop a kidlet. It's a contentious situation 'cuz the pair haven't paid the rent and have no intention of doing so. For some obscure reason, The Law is on their side, guaranteeing their place in the house.
So, Buddy's got tenants he doesn't want. Renovations he has to work double shift to pay for and a wife that's undercutting him at every turn. Estelle is, to put it mildly, a real peace of work. From a guy's perspective, we have to wonder just what it was that Buddy saw in this incredibly negative, sarcastic and demeaning (to him) life partner. He's a loyal husband but he's also willing to do things that, at first appearance, make him look like a cheater. That's all you need to know.
Writer/Director Raymond De Felitta has managed to do what we rarely see in independent movies. He's written a good story and he's told it well. He's given his actors characters with solid backgrounds to work with and while Rispoli and Macdonald do good work, you're going to drop your jaw over Narducci's Estelle. And while both Rispoli and Narducci have recurring roles on The Sopranos, it is more than likely that you'll have better facial recognition when Vincent Pastore hits the screen, as Buddy's bartender and friend Angelo.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Two Family House, he would have paid...
A rating a shade higher than the usual big studio dateflicks get. Two Family House is doing one of those slow rollouts, trying to build word of mouth from the indie circuit. Most of the time, and unfortunately in this case, it's more than likely you'll have to see it on tape. With the warning about language in mind, please do.
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