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'Two Family House'

Sensitive situation: Real life interferes with big dreams in 'Two Family House'

Friday, November 03, 2000

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

How do you like your movies: rare, medium, well done? Raw? Al dente?

'Two Family House'

RATING: R for language and adult sexual situations

STARRING: Michael Rispoli, Kelly Macdonald, Katherine Narducci, Kevin Conway

DIRECTOR: Raymond De Felitta

WEB SITE: www.twofamily

3 stars


If tender, "Two Family House" is for you -- as it will be for anyone starved for an intelligent, non-violent, low-tech story of a serious relationship between two clearly real adults.

Buddy Visalo (Michael Rispoli) is a frustrated singer with a Julius LaRosa fantasy and an equally elusive dream of escaping the assembly line with a big moneymaking scheme. Several of them. All failures. All scorned by his good but pessimistic wife Estelle (Katherine Narducci), who is content with life-the-way-it-is in the peculiarly insulated middle-class world of Staten Island in 1953.

Estelle doesn't protest too much until Buddy's latest brainstorm hits her where she lives -- literally: He buys a two-story house in which they'll live upstairs and turn the downstairs into a bar. Selling drinks is the obvious business objective, but Buddy's not-so-secret agenda is to be the crooner-entertainer for his clientele.

The place is a dump and is going to take a massive clean-up and remodeling effort. What's worse, the upstairs is currently occupied by tenants who refuse to be evicted: a nasty old alcoholic (Kevin Conway) and his abused, pregnant Irish wife Mary (Kelly Macdonald) -- only slightly less nasty. In the process of evicting them, Mary goes into labor with Buddy as the ad hoc midwife. Hubby takes a permanent hike when he gets a look at the kid and finds -- well, no resemblance to himself.

How can Buddy evict a mother and newborn? His pals goad him into it, but when she ends up in a flophouse/whorehouse, he feels so guilty about it, he finds Mary a decent apartment and pays for it himself. With their intensely different Italian-Irish ethnicities, can love be far behind?

Not in director Raymond De Felitta's script, which is full of heart and unsentimental sensitivity toward them both. His film itself is full of fine, restrained acting by Rispoli and Narducci (both from TV's "Sopranos") and especially Macdonald (who made her screen debut in "Trainspotting").

A particularly beautiful love scene -- like many scenes in the picture -- is viewed alternately through our own eyes and through the eyes of the baby. It sounds cloying but it isn't; it's a rather original narrative device.

Estelle's over-sympathetic girlfriends at the Skyline Diner provide the comic relief. She's not upset that he's fooling around -- it's with whom.

Intolerance, infidelity and miscegenation are among the serious themes, seriously treated, in this sweet and unmannered tale. Buddy's struggle is to rise above his environment and forge a new bond in uncharted waters. No mean feat, as the gentle narrator observes: "He'd never thought of the people he'd known all his life as his jailers."

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