Two Family House

2000, Movie, R, 104 mins


Bighearted and wistful, but with no fresh spin or anything new to say, this nostalgic drama resembles the Levittown-style box homes that sprang up around the film's 1956 Staten Island milieu: It's small, solidly constructed and lacks any interesting style or adornments. Stocky, baby-faced Buddy Visalo (Michael Rispoli) coulda been a contenda — on Arthur Godfrey's amateur hour, at least. A decade earlier, singing serviceman Buddy had been invited to perform on the talent-contest TV show. His fianceé, Estelle (Katherine Narducci), however, insisted he get a real job, but Buddy did better: He got several real jobs and floundered in all of them. Now, after years in a factory and a marriage, he's invested a little inherited money in a ramshackle two-family house. To Estelle's horror, Buddy plans on moving them into the upstairs and building a neighborhood bar below, where Buddy will sing. Too late they discover a drunken deadbeat (Kevin Conway) and his much younger, much pregnant wife, Mary (Kelly Macdonald), already occupying the top floor. For legal reasons, Buddy won't be able to evict them for a year, so he gathers an Italian-American chorus of tough-minded friends to intimidate the couple into leaving. Mary immediately goes into labor, delivering a distinctly African-American baby boy who prompts her ne'er-do-well husband to hightail it. Buddy has a heart, but he also has a dream, and he still insists that Mary go. But when it turns out Mary's sister won't take in a biracial kid (not the term used in the film, which acutely reflects the casually racist language of the time), softhearted Buddy secretly puts up mother and child in a small apartment. You can take it from there — or could, if the bludgeoning narration that spells out every action and emotion would let you. Rispoli, Narducci and Vincent Pastore, who plays a bartender, all have portrayed nastier Italian-Americans on the acclaimed HBO series The Sopranos. leave a comment --Frank Lovece

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