Two Family House

on October 06, 2000 by Tim Cogshell
   "Two Family House," a pithy little film by writer/director Raymond De Felitta ("Café Society"), has a wonderful story to tell. Though it is simple and fairly predictable from the first frame, it is nonetheless engaging, all the more so because it is for the most part true.

   1956, Staten Island: Buddy Visalo ("Summer of Sam's" Michael Rispoli ) is an everyday Joe whose dreams of a larger life have been crushed more than once. A wonderful singer, his family, including his wife Estelle (Katherine Narducci of TV's "The Sopranos"), discouraged his one chance at stardom. Over the years, all of his schemes to be his own boss and shed the dreary life of a factory worker have failed. His latest idea is to buy a two-family flat, live in the upstairs apartment and turn the downstairs into a bar where he can fulfill his dream to entertain and finally be his own man. As usual, believing that he is neither smart enough nor talented enough, his family is against the idea. He does it anyway, and true to form runs into problems right off the bat. It seems that the upstairs apartment is occupied by a mean drunk--played wickedly by noted character actor Kevin Conway--and his very pregnant wife, Mary (Kelly Macdonald of "Trainspotting"), and they have no intention of moving. When Buddy and his friends attempt to force the issue, Mary goes into labor. The baby boy born that day--who tells this story in hindsight and voiceover--changes everything. Over the next few months, Buddy's beliefs about his friends, his family, his dreams and the nature of love are tested. As the bond between him, Mary and the baby boy deepens, their story becomes something truly extraordinary.

   "Two Family House" is sincere without pandering, and its impact is heightened by the way De Felitta allows his actors to tell they story. He trusts them to communicate it directly to audience with little directorial interference, though he maintains a solid visual context and emotional tone. It's outstanding work all around.    Starring Michael Rispoli, Kelly Macdonald, Katherine Narducci and Kevin Conway. Directed and written by Raymond De Felitta. Produced by Anne Harrison and Alan Klingenstein. A Lions Gate release. Drama. Rated R for language and brief sexuality. Running time: 104 min.

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