The acting in Nancy Savoca’s Union Square is so strong it almost makes you forget what a total zero the rest of this undernourished little throwaway film really is. Like another overpraised female director, Lynn Shelton, and her latest chamber-music tedium, Your Sister’s Sister, this lazy little tone poem about two rival and disparate sisters is a talkathon going nowhere. Nothing worth repeating is ever uttered, and nothing worth remembering ever happens. Mercifully, it is over in 80 minutes.
Brash, noisy, sobbing and bordering on hysterics, Mira Sorvino is Lucy, a neurotic dingbat who arrives in Manhattan by train, makes a series of frustrating phone calls and sends an unlimited barrage of unanswered text messages to a lover named Jay, meeting unexpected rejection and hostility at every turn, then drags shopping bags full of things she doesn’t need and a poodle named Murray to the Union Square loft of her sister Jenny (Tammy Blanchard), who is alarmed to see her, to say the least; they haven’t spoken to each other for three years. Up to this point, you think Lucy has traveled thousands of miles, but she has come only from the Bronx. The siblings have nothing in common but that doesn’t stop them from a stream of unstoppable babble. Swerving violently amid frustration, rage and desperate need, Lucy curses loudly and changes clothes so rapidly that she seems to be on a collision course with a nervous breakdown. Personally, I kept wishing she would get it over with and leave, but Union Square does us no such favor: 80 minutes seem like 80 days—at hard labor.
The sisters are polar opposites. Jenny is organized and disciplined. Lucy is an obnoxious flake. Jenny is engaged to marry her roommate, Bill (Mike Doyle, who was memorably gang raped and electrocuted on the HBO series Oz). In a real change of pace, he now plays an uptight, anal retentive preppie who is militant about his daily runs, organic food, a rigid health routine and tofu. He is paranoid about alcohol, dog hair, germs and second-hand smoke, so when Lucy’s dog lounges on the furniture while she wolfs down vodka gimlets and puffs away like Bette Davis, it’s like leaving the toilet seat in the up position. He is also confused. He thinks the girls are from the preppy coves of Maine, not the ethnic stews of the Bronx. In one night, Lucy breaks every house rule, drags Jenny off to a smoky dance club, informs her sister that their crazy mother, after numerous attempts at suicide, finally got her wish, then teeters on the edge of a bridge as she contemplates jumping herself.
While Ms. Savoca directs the action in a series of claustrophobic close-ups that make you long for the days of movies like Gone with the Wind and Giant, it drags on, like a bagpipe that needs a tune-up. In her ruffled skirts, patterned stockings and high-heel fur boots, Mira Sorvino invades Tammy Blanchard’s ordered life like an extraterrestrial. So it comes as a surprise when Lucy returns for a vegetarian Thanksgiving of meatless lasagna and organic cranberry sauce with a husband and a child. But that is the film’s only surprise and it seems lamely contrived. Nothing else occurs to sustain interest, although a few days with Lucy loosens Jenny up enough to admit to Bill she’s from the Bronx, not Maine, and she hates his trail mix. The actors are so good, though, that they make you want to see what they could do in a better movie than this tedious acting-class experiment.
Running Time 80 minutes
Written by Nancy Savoca and Mary Tobler
Directed by Nancy Savoca
Starring Tammy Blanchard, Mira Sorvino and Michael Rispoli