Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

"Slap my ass and call me a bad mother!" Where in the hell did that come from? This was a line from a scene in this otherwise quiet character drama ‘Adrift in Manhattan’ that could actually be funny when taken out of context but within the context of the film is actually terribly sad. One might initially think that this film directed by Alfredo De Villa is one of those New York street stories that often drip with pretension, have disdain for anybody outside of the five boroughs and are understood only by folks with subscriptions to The Village Voice, but this would not be the case with this picture as it about people and quite honestly could have taken place anywhere.

‘Adrift in Manhattan’ is a story about a small group of people all loosely connected in someway and all dealing with some sort of major issues in their lives. Simon (Victor Rasuk) is a debilitatingly shy twenty year old who works at a camera shop and lives with his mother (Marlene Forte) with whom he has… how shall we say… an ‘uncomfortable’ relationship with. With the help of Mr. Sneider (Richard Petrocelli) who owns the shop, Simon uses the lenses that he is given to take pictures of people in the street. One day he spies Rose (Heather Graham) sitting in the park alone and seeming incredibly sad, so he follows her around and takes pictures of her, even taking pictures of her while she is inside her house, which I believe is like against the law. Rose is an optometrist who has a client in Tomas (Dominic Chianese) who is slowly going blind. Though Tomas has been working in the mail room of a Manhattan company for fifteen years he is a man of culture with an affinity to fine music and wine and considers himself a painter. His eyes are his most prized possession and losing them he believes would be the death of him. One of the women who Tomas delivers mail to in the office is Isabel (Elizabeth Pena) who is very fond of Tomas as he is quite fond of her though the enclosed Tomas has trouble expressing himself. For guidance Isabel goes to Claire (Erika Michels) who is to a tarot card reader and informs

Isabel that a man will coming into her life. Someone who doesn’t use Claire’s mystical powers is her older brother Mark (William Baldwin) as he thinks she lives in a fantasy world, but yet he has to deal with it since he’s staying with her as he is estranged from his wife Rose. Tragically the couple’s two year old son died in accident a few months back and Rose can’t recover from it and Mark refuses to deal with it.

And that’s pretty much it as ‘Adrift in Manhattan’ doesn’t really have a plot so to speak. The narrative is unique in the sense that the characters in the film aren’t striving towards  any kind of particular movie oriented type of goal. There’s no trying to win the big game, there’s no boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and there are no terrorist to kill. Some characters have their problems resolved and some remain adrift. This may be one of the reasons that this film is so little known but it is certainly one of the reasons that I found the film to be uniformly excellent.

If I were to think of a word to describe this film it would be ‘precise’. With a running time just over 80 minutes and with the wealth of characters one would think that the development of the characters would suffer greatly but here’s where the director shines working off his own story with the script written by Nat Moss. Nothing is wasted in this film as everything that a character does, every action, every movement has some importance. I left this movie with the thought that I had a full understanding of the principle characters of Rose, Tomas and Simon because every thing they did and said, or didn’t say in the case of Simon, had some meaning and told us volumes about their characters. Even the secondary characters of Mark, or Claire and Simon’s mother Marta had more character and feeling in what little time they had on screen than in many movies twice as long as this one.

For any character driven drama to work it has to have actors who can deliver the roles to the audience and ‘Adrift in Manhattan’ shines in this as well. Heather Graham has never been considered a great actress, hell, even a decent actress but she was very good in this just as she was pretty good in the last movie I saw her in with ‘Miss Conception’ – though I really didn’t like that film. Her natural asset of those large sad blue eyes – I don’t know what you thought I was about to say - were used to great effect in this film so that even when she smiles she manages breaks your heart. Dominic Chianese once again shows there’s way more to his dramatic ability than simply ‘Uncle Sonny’ and honestly speaking, none of the actors from the always outstanding Elizabeth Pena to the oft maligned William Baldwin hits a sour note in this film. And might I give special notice to Nicole Leach as Melanie… no, she didn’t have a lot to do in this film, though her character was relevant, but more so because she’s hot as hell. I really tried to stay professional with this review for a change and I gave it my best shot to stay above my usual bad habits but it would appear I can’t help myself. So I’m going to stop trying for now on.

If you’re looking for a car crash or some happy ending with soaring strings and doves flying off into the sunset, you have plenty of movies to choose from. If you want to see an intricate well woven story looking into the lives of normal people with normal problems, and watch in awe of how one filmmaker can make you care about these normal people, then might I recommend ‘Adrift in Manhattan’.

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