A great art house film that’s character-driven. Union Square touches upon anxious family woes rarely dissected in films. Filmmaker Nancy Savoca as proven before (“True Love,” “Household Saints”), gets under the skin of difficult, problematic women and illuminates them. The tragedy of the film is not that Mira Sorvino (as Lucy) is a human wrecking ball, but that the other sister Tammy Blanchard (as Jenny) has to endure her. Families divide often in this world while good people, going independent and solvent, try to live apart from toxic siblings. Jenny, we observe, can succeed on her own, create her own business, pay for her own flat, has become engaged to a handsome and educated man, all of it on her own after she has divorced from her family.
This kind of family disintegration happens all the time. Maybe you’ve witnessed it or lived it yourself, which at that point I’d say this is must-see viewing for you. Even if this kind of sibling rivalry is outside of your relatable radar this is still quite a remarkable film if you love art house cinema that plunks down into the real warts-and-all human experience.
“You have to forget everything that happened, alright? Whatever you said, whatever I said? Forget it, get over it!” Lucy the high-heeled vixen insists, waving her arms dramatically, trying to run sully water under the bridge for the transgressions that tore them apart years back. You also instantly perceive Lucy is saying this only out of convenience, it’s her way of barging through the door before Jenny can raise an objection. Before Jenny can find the words to encourage, or spite, her sister out of the house, she has to waste words on upholding policy. Take off your shoes, don’t let your dog trot around the house, don’t smoke in here. It’s rather a pertinent character detail that Jenny sells organic food for a living. Jenny has selected a life that is hygienic, simple and uncomplicated.
It’s fair to say that “Union Square,” sharply co-written by Savoca and Mary Tobler, looks like it will become a chamber drama of family rivals who duke out their history of resentments within an enclosed boxed space. Although it’s a budgetary indie, Savoca avoids the traps of solo movie-set contrivance by creating a kind of escape-the-toxic-anarchy suspense. Will Jenny erupt to the point by forcing trampy Lucy out of her flat? Or will Jenny actually walk out on her own home? (Wait, she can’t do that.)
Fiancé Bill comes home, immediately you judge that he’s strappingly athletic and a breadwinner – so attractive and goody-goody that he might be “boring” to Lucy who is solely drawn to hot and heavy drama relationships. Bill is too nice to force out any guest from his home, on the contrary, he encourages time together between sisters. Seems as if Jenny has never told Bill about the sibling rivalry that is between each other. Jenny is heading into a future marriage built on lies about who she is and where she comes from.
Lucy drinks too much, invites a trashy friend over, spreads out on the couch, gets into text-messaging wars with a uncooperative lover, flaunts herself in sexual poses just to amuse herself, hollers her boredom and need to party, etc. Lucy bolts from the place to look for late night kicks, but leaves her bag of items and dog behind. Even when she’s out, she’s not quite out. Over the next couple of days, Lucy and Jenny have their excursions out into public but it’s clear that, 1.) Lucy is out for fun; 2.) Lucy is out to hurt herself for the thrill of danger and 3.) Lucy wants sister Jenny to show her loyalty by rescuing her. The idea of “manic” behavior is not out of line in explaining Lucy’s actions.
The everyday horror of the movie, and poignant truth, is that Jenny was out to remake herself and yet is betrayed by family forces she cannot control. I chose the word ‘divorce’ and I insist on sticking to it. She did everything to divorce herself from her mother, and from her sister. She moved to Union Square, New York for isolation and solidarity. Jenny is embarrassed by her family history, and thought this was the way to permanently escape it.
The scenario within the apartment flat, an indefinite stay that will have you grinding your teeth or burst out laughing at Mira Sorvino’s mesmerizingly grandiose and blazing performance, only gets more loud and untamed as the first day rolls into the next. Sorvino’s Lucy insists that she is staying for Thanksgiving, but Bill’s clean-cut family is visiting for turkey day. Jenny can only keep her bloodline turmoil a secret for only so much longer. She can get meaner a whole lot faster to get her trash-sister out of there, or she can get a whole lot kinder.
As for Mira Sorvino, yes. This is one of the year’s great performances. She plays this toxic character unrestrained, narcissistic and wild to the hilt.
Read one-on-one interview with director Nancy Savoca: click here.
80 Minutes. Rated R.
DRAMA / MOODY CHARACTER STUDY / WEEKEND SELF-REFLECTION MOVIE
Film Cousins: “True Love” (1989); “In Her Shoes” (2005); “Margot at the Wedding” (2007); “Rachel Getting Married” (2008).