review for Union Square on AllMovie

Union Square (2011)
by Perry Seibert review

Sibling rivalry between brothers is a pretty common theme, certainly Cain and Abel helped get that narrative ball rolling. The conflicts between sisters who get on each other's nerves, however, have usually been relegated to classic "women's pictures" and Lifetime movies. Union Square, the first film from writer/director Nancy Savoca in almost ten years, tackles the theme head on.

Mira Sorvino stars as Lucy, the hard-drinking, party-girl sister of Jenny (Tammy Blanchard). They haven't seen each other in a few years because Jenny moved out of their Bronx home and is currently living in Manhattan with her fiancé, the handsome Bill (Mike Doyle), who makes a living selling organic food. Lucy has come into the city to confront her married lover, but she's been blown off and, having nowhere else to go, pays an unexpected call to Jenny. As Lucy's brash, living-on-the-edge energy collides with the calm, quiet existence Jenny has carved out for herself, the extroverted sister pushes all of Jenny's emotional buttons, and soon Lucy's train-wreck lifestyle reveals some long-buried family secrets.

Savoca's early films were dialogue-heavy indies, and Union Square certainly has the look and feel of John Cassavetes. With her motor-mouth and wild mood swings, Sorvino is more than plausible as an addict, and Blanchard pulls off the difficult task of being remarkably unlikable even while she's the more sympathetic of the two characters -- at least during the film's opening passages. While it's entertaining to watch these two talented performers play off each other, the script has such an improvised feel to it that sometimes the dialogue runs into a dramatic dead-end -- instead of resolving conflicts they just stop.

It's easier to forgive moments like that in a movie this modest, though. Dealing with someone as unreliable as Lucy would be infuriating, and Savoca, as well as Sorvino, is unafraid to make Lucy into one of the more annoying characters you'll come across in a while. Sure, we see another side of her eventually, and Jenny slowly reveals that she's got more in common with her sister than we'd ever expect.

Even though the movie clocks in at a brief 80 minutes, it feels padded. A whole second section devoted to an awkward Thanksgiving family meal plays more like an afterthought -- we've spent so much time with just Lucy, Jenny, and Bill that adding so many new people so late in the game seems extraneous, even if the always entertaining Michael Rispoli plays one of them.

This is a minor work from Savoca, but considering she's had such a long gap between projects it feels more like she's getting her directorial legs under her again. It's not quite successful, but it does have flashes of what made her earlier films so wonderful -- strong performances, a humanistic love for her characters, and a great ear for New York language. Hopefully she won't take so long to follow this up, and will return with something even stronger.