Austin Film Fest ’11 Review: Sorvino, Blanchard Go In Search of a More Perfect “Union” in Savoca’s “Square”

Mira Sorvino gets a rare chance to show off her comic chops in this reckless and rollicking comedy about sisters with secrets from "Dogfight" director Nancy Savoca....Read More

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All our coverage from the Austin Film Festival can be found here.

It would be difficult to think of a more appropriate closing night film for a festival that champions screenwriters such as Austin than “Union Square,” a film that has no shortage of words. The majority of them stumble fast and furiously out of the mouth of Lucy (Mira Sorvino), whose sister Jenny (Tammy Blanchard) may put it best when she tells her at one point, “You like to live in a fucking tornado.”

That’s actually the most intuitive description Jenny could probably muster for Lucy, whom she hasn’t seen in three years, so to hear Lucy’s high heels stomping up the stairs towards her apartment in midtown comes as quite a surprise. It’s the first of many in Nancy Savoca’s 80-minute comedy that recklessly hurdles forward at the same speed as Lucy.

UnionSquareBlanchardBurnished with sentimentality that polishes its rougher edges off both cinematically and dramatically to some degree, “Union Square” isn’t exactly Pinter, but it does land its share of punches in the tete a tete between the siblings, who couldn’t be more different from each other. While the chatty, mercurial Lucy is thoroughly a product of the Bronx, decked in layers of clothes, the tanktop-clad Jenny would prefer to put that in the past, convincing her fiancé (Mike Doyle) that she was raised in Maine, a more convenient background for the sustainable food business they run together.

Not long after Lucy’s arrival, Jenny is reaching for the organic vodka in the fridge, but it isn’t only because of the neuroses her sister brings into the couple’s otherwise calm dojo. Instead, the chain smoking, the constant cell phone ring of Lisa Lisa’s “Can You Feel the Beat” and the blare of Lucy’s beloved reality TV are a mild irritation to Jenny’s nerves when the mere presence of the unwelcome houseguest threatens to upend the years she’s spent reinventing herself on the verge of her wedding.

Clearly, Jenny’s had considerable success at developing a new life, but Savoca and Mary Tobler’s script is perhaps more adept at change, constantly peering around the corner for a new revelation about who the sisters once were and hints at who they might become. There’s so much story misdirection that “Union Square” occasionally gets lost — the rare foray outside of Jenny’s apartment — a late night trip to a nightclub at Lucy’s insistence — feels like a flashback even though it takes place in the present. Yet the conversation that takes place there flips the perception of the sisters completely, part of a continually fluid shift of power that keeps the film alive as one question of which sister is more responsible, genuine or stable leads to another.

Despite their harshest exchanges, it’s a credit to Savoca that you never lose sight of the fact Jenny and Lucy are family, a fact helped by a fierce turn from Sorvino, who displays the same kooky charm as she did when she won an Oscar for “Mighty Aphrodite” and a more subdued performance from Blanchard, who’s required to do much of the heavy lifting as both Sorvino’s scene partner and as her onscreen sister. In balancing each other out, they ground the film when it threatens to wander too far tonally towards either extreme – although they may be working within a limited setting, both the laughs and the tears aren’t done in moderation. “Union Square” isn’t nearly as overwhelming as a whole, but it’s a fun enough diversion, emphasis on that last part for this story where everyone’s got something to hide.

“Union Square” does not yet have U.S. distribution. It will play as the closing night film of the Austin Film Festival on October 27th at 8 p.m. at the Paramount.

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