November 16, 2000

Strong Foundation

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While nowadays the American dream is to start an Internet company, wait until it goes public on the stock market, and then retire on the millions earned, in the past men had much smaller plans. In the film Two Family House, Buddy Visalo’s (Michael Rispoli) dream is to own a house and run a bar where he can sing. The road to happiness is a bumpy one, but like the film, plenty worthwhile.

Buddy Visalo is recognized by friends and family as a failure but he is convinced that his last attempt at the American dream will prove everyone wrong.

He buys a two family house for him and his wife, Estelle (Katherine Narducci), and plans to use half of it to live in and half of it as a bar. Unfortunately, Jim O’Neary (Kevin Conway), an Irish drunk, and his pregnant wife, Mary (Kelly MacDonald), currently live in part of the house and refuse to vacate. When Mary has her baby boy and, to her husband’s surprise, it is half black, her husband leaves her. Estelle then forces Buddy to evict Mary once she has recovered from giving birth. Buddy complies, but later has a change of heart. Slowly but surely, a relationship develops between Buddy and Mary.

The film takes place in post-war Staten Island, New York, but is narrated in the present by Mary’s illegitimate son. He looks back nostalgically on the era; however, the racism and sexism of the period are evident in the ignorant behavior of the community.

Believing in oneself and one’s own values rather than blindly following the morals of the society in which one exists is the central theme of the film. Buddy’s desire to give up his day job and otherwise uninteresting life for the one of his dreams makes him a hero and ultimately very satisfied. Buddy and Mary’s defiance of criticism from others makes their relationship that much more sincere.

While Two Family House is clearly a feel-good movie, it does manage to avoid being overly sentimental. Rispoli does an apt job of portraying the frustration of Buddy, a man broken by his wife’s disapproval and his conflicting desire to follow his dreams.

Narducci is equally convincing as Buddy’s wife, Estelle. She is pitiful as a woman who lacks the power to change her life as her husband can. She is even willing to stand by him after his affair, mostly because of the social unacceptability of walking away from one’s marital problems at the time.

Two Family House is not pretentious. It is a simple story of one man’s attempt to defy the complacency by which he is surrounded and to better his own life. The story reminds the audience of what it is like to have passion for one’s job and one’s spouse when those feelings are easily forgotten.

It is impossible to leave the film without thinking about how much more fulfilling life could be if we all pursued perfect happiness rather than settling for less.

Archived article by Diana Lind