Give or Take


In the weed hole.

(2020) Drama (Breaking Glass) Norbert Leo Butz, Jamie Effros, Joanne Tucker, Louis Cancelmi, Cheri Oteri, Annapurna Sriram, Jaden Waldman, Garry Mitchell, Shaun O’Hagan, Chris Fischer, Roya Shanks, Kyle Overstreet, Dennis Cunningham, Polly Lee, Jack Casey, Nathaniel Schultz, Kate Dearing, Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut, Steve Ross, Ian P. Ryan, Paul Schuyler. Directed by Paul Riccio

 

A vital part of indie cinema is the city dweller return to their small-town home for self-reflection following some trauma or event, finding some kind of a) redemption, b) growth or c) peace. Sometimes, all three. These movies can be by-the-numbers and as such, offer little insight; however, they can also take a fresh look and shine a light on some aspect of our nature that we can relate to.

Said city boy is Martin (Effros), who has returned to his home on Cape Cod to attend his father’s funeral and settle his affairs. Martin isn’t particularly thrilled to be there; his father had always been a distant, critical and cold man who never warmed to his son. They were driven further apart after Martin’s mother passed away, and his father promptly came out as gay and took up with Ted (Butz), his yard landscaper who now lives in the house that Martin grew up in.

Both men have issues; Martin hears tales of his father’s warmth and generosity, traits he never displayed towards Martin, and feels some jealousy that others saw this side of his dad and he never did. Ted feels slighted that his lover had not changed his will and left everything to Martin, including the home that he has lived in for seven years and made so many wonderful memories in. A predatory real estate agent (Oteri) is after Martin to sell, confident she could get a nice seven-figure sum for the property. Ted doesn’t want to leave, but he doesn’t have a legal right to stay. The two men clash in all sorts of details about happens at the funeral. Ted thinks there’s some homophobia going on, but neither man, trying to deal with the grief they both feel in different ways, truly understands that the other is also grieving.

Riccio (who co-wrote the movie along with Effros) fails to resist the temptation to make all the characters in town quirky, although he doesn’t take it to the degree that it becomes annoying. Martin reconnects with his prickly teenage crush Emma (Tucker) who is married now – Martin himself has a high-maintenace girlfriend (Sriram) who is remarkably materialistic. He also befriends a little boy who hides in a water-filled garbage can, using it as a kind of DIY sensory deprivation tank. There is also the stoner pool guy Terrence (Cancelmi) who has a large hole in the ground where he likes to smoke weed and invites Martin to join him from time to time. He also dispenses pearls of wisdom that are very un-stoner-like.

Good use is made of the bucolic Cape Cod setting. The best part of the movie is the relationship between Ted and Martin. It’s generally contentious, and there are times you want to give each one a good shaking, but at others you marvel at the humanity they have. Each man is played as wounded and imperfect; Butz, in particular, shines here, shows Ted as sometimes overwhelmed in his grief.

Some have classified this as a LGBTQ film and I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate; it’s more of a film in which one of the main characters is gay, but it isn’t necessarily about his experience as a gay man. It appears that most people in town seem to accept Ted for who he is, but it would seem likely in a small New England town that he would have encountered some push back. That really isn’t explored here, though.

Overall, the tone is pretty low-key, almost to the point of lethargy. Some might find the tone unexciting, but in all honesty, I found this to be a satisfying slice of life that reminds us that yes, even our parents are capable of growth and change, and so are we. Solid, all around.

REASONS TO SEE: Complex, layered relationships.
REASONS TO AVOID: Might be a little too low-key for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, drug use and some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Butz is a two-time Tony Award winner.
=BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, DirecTV, Google Play, Spectrum, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube
=CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/4/2022: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Beautiful Boy
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Huda’s Salon

Team Marco


If you can’t see the forest for the VR, you’re missing out on life.

(2020) Family (GoldwynOwen Vaccaro, Anthony Patellis, Thomas Kopache, Anastasia Ganias, Louis Cancelmi, Greg Rikaart, Jacob Laval, Antoinette LaVecchia, Kevin Interdonato, Caitlin Hammond, Jake Katzman, Skyler Lipkin, Joseph Callari, Ethan Coskay, Raymond Sammak, Precious Pia, Andrew Annicharico, Bobby Guarino, Candice Guardino, Noa Lev-Ari.  Directed by Julio Vincent Gambuto

 

Hollywood has a habit of looking at the very old and the very young with nearly equal disdain; senior citizens are technology-averse, doddering and full of aphorisms that pass for wisdom in a world geared towards neat little soundbites; the very young are technology-obsessed, attached to their smartphones, tablets and gaming consoles like they have superglue on them. How do these disparate generations possibly communicate?

Marco (Vaccaro) is a soon-to-be 12-year-old boy whose mother (Ganias) is a nurse in Staten Island, and whose father (Cancelmi) is a videogame designer living on the West Coast. Yes, they’re divorced. Marco has been promised by his dad that if he gets to level 100 on his dad’s latest videogame, that he will fly Marco out to a prestigious videogame convention where Marco will be surrounded by the latest and the greatest – a 12-year-old gamer’s idea of heaven.

Throwing a monkey wrench into all this is Marco’s grandfather, Nonno (Patellis), an irascible old man mourning the loss of his wife and forced to live with his daughter and grandson in a house too small as it is. Nonno sees Marco as almost a shut-in with no friends, no exercise, and no life to speak of other than the fantasy life he leads online. Marco’s anxieties have translated into germ phobia and imagined food allergies which Mom tolerates, but doesn’t actively discourage. Marco regards his grandfather with all the warmth and acceptance that he would a case of chicken pox.

Wise old grandpa sees that an intervention must be made, and he confiscates all of Marco’s electronics with the promise that he can get them all back if he can put together a team of young boys to play bocce ball against his grandfather’s team – and Nonno happens to be a bocce ball champion. It’s a tall order, but if Marco wants to get to that convention, he’ll have to take the plunge.

Generation gap movies can be amusing – very often it’s hard to believe that differing generations are even the same species as ourselves – but they are, generally speaking, not terribly clever, particularly those meant for family viewing. For whatever reason, Hollywood has always felt that the way to find common ground between generations is to dumb things down as much as possible, and that is certainly somewhat true here. The screenplay is predictable, and while there are some moments that genuinely made me misty-eyed, it felt like there was a great deal of lost opportunity here.

We have a man in mourning for his wife of many years; we have a child so eager to impress his father who lives on the other side of the country that he’s willing to do almost anything, not realizing that his father shouldn’t be making spending time with him conditional on whether he plays the game he designed or not. That feels wrong from a parental point of view and in fact there are a lot of parental don’ts in the mix here. I can imagine that a lot of Italian-Americans might end up objecting to the portrayal of the grandfather as being a bit too stereotypical. The accent has all the flavor of Chef Boy-ar-dee.

Vaccaro is a pretty good young actor, but he plays the kind of kid (at least, in the first half of the film) that would make Mother Teresa reach for the leather belt. While he (and we) learn more about bocce than any of us probably ever wanted to know, Marco at least matures a little bit but for many, it will be too little, too late. Perhaps it’s because my son is a gamer that I have little patience for the whole “Gaming is everything” mentality that Marco has; it hits a bit too close to home, so take that aspect with a grain of salt. Still, early on in the movie I wanted nothing more than to put every electronic device I own into a landfill, and I’m quite sure that wasn’t the effect the filmmakers were going for.

As family entertainment goes, it does the job adequately, but only just. There are a ton of much better family films out there to be shared with multiple generations and as the holidays approach with the prospect of sharing close quarters with grandparents and grandkids, there is no doubt that you can do much better than this.

REASONS TO SEE: Some genuinely heartwarming moments.
REASONS TO AVOID: Loses itself in generation gap cliches.
FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for the entire family.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Vaccaro was 13 when filming took place.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/25/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 50% positive reviews, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Samuel Project
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Girl