Two Family House

Friday, October 27th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

By Kendall Morgan / The Dallas Morning News

Most "small" movies try to touch the audience by showing people just like you, me or the guy next door. But sometimes we just aren't all that compelling.

Treading through the same "big dreams, small lives" territory of countless little movies that have gone before it, Two Family House nonetheless manages to draw the audience in and make them actually care what happens to its hapless leads. It's that rare character study about interesting characters.

Buddy Visalo (Michael Rispoli from The Sopranos) stars as a well-meaning blue-collar guy from 1950s Staten Island who has his big dream nipped in the bud by his shrewish wife Estelle (Katherine Narducci).

While serving in World War II, Buddy was discovered singing by radio host Arthur Godfrey. His opportunity to launch a career as a postwar crooner gives way to living with the in-laws and a dead-end factory job.

Buddy doesn't fare much better with a series of get-rich-quick schemes. Estelle spends her days shopping and whining to her friends about what a failure he is.

Seeing a dilapidated house as his last opportunity, Buddy buys it to turn the lower story into a bar. But first he has to oust the upstairs tenants – a drunken old Irish immigrant Jim (Kevin Conway) and his surly young pregnant wife, Mary (Kelly MacDonald, best known from Trainspotting).

They're not planning to budge, until something unusual happens. While in the middle of a forced eviction, Mary gives birth and the baby clearly could not be Jim's.

As one of Buddy's cronies quips about the child, "Kind of gives a whole new meaning to the term Black Irish."

Jim disappears and Mary moves to a rundown hotel. Buddy finds himself concerned about the welfare of the girl, to the point that he secretly begins to pay for an apartment for her, for reasons even he doesn't understand.

An uneasy friendship develops: He admires her for keeping the child, and she begins to see him more clearly than the people he's known all his life.

While the rest of Buddy's circle treat him like a fool for trying to follow a dream, Mary is the only one to say, "We're all meant for something in particular. This is what you're meant for."

The relationship between them is the sweetest thing about Two Family House. Narrated by the grown-up son Mary considers giving up but ultimately keeps, the story shows how two losers can become heroes.