Judy Berlin
dir-scr Eric Mendelsohn
with Edie Falco, Aaron Harnick, Barbara Barrie, Madeline Kahn, Bob Dishy, Anne Meara, Julie Kavner, Novella Nelson, Bette Henritze, Carlin Glynn, Marcus Giamatti, Marcia DeBonis
release US 25.Feb.00; UK 1.Dec.00
awards best first feature, best supporting actress Barrie, best cinematography (Independent Spirit Awards 00); best director (Sundance 99); best film and best score (Hamptons 99).
99/US 1h33 3 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
She's so popular. Judy Berlin (Falco) spends the afternoon with long-lost "friend" David (Harnick)...
This warm, dark American drama from first-time filmmaker Mendelsohn is vaguely reminiscent of Woody Allen in serious mode (indeed, Mendelsohn worked on a string of Allen's films). Shot in black and white and centring on a cross section of characters in a small suburban New England town, the film is full of insight and meaning, even if it's not terribly exciting. The story is told from various points of view, but the central figure is 30-year-old David Gold (Harnick), back home after trying to become a filmmaker in L.A. His mother (Kahn, in a lovely performance filmed before her death in 1999) is trying desperately to find someone, anyone, who cares about her; while his father (Dishy), the grade school principal, is trying to get away, drawn to a teacher (Barrie) who may not return his affections. Then as he roams the streets in a suicidal funk, David runs into Judy (Falco), the popular girl from high school, who's leaving town that evening for an acting career in Hollywood. Through the afternoon, these two essential strangers--they were never really friends--get to know each other, walk down memory lane and watch an eclipse plunge the town into darkness.

The film is an impeccable portrait of an orderly suburb ... everything is on schedule, perfectly normal, and yet there are secret forces at work underneath. Yes, it's a bit obvious in metaphor and symbolism, but it undermines this with sharply funny jabs at itself and its characters. And while it does get a bit rambly and slow, this is such an intriguing film, and so beautifully photographed and edited, that it can't help but touch us on some level. The acting is excellent, sometimes so raw that it takes away our breath as it examines concepts of home, age, regret, change and the things we depend on.

[15--themes, language] 27.Nov.00

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall