Few people make truly independent cinema anymore. Using only a minimal budget, relatively few sets, and a small ensemble of actors, the task can be very constricting and any filmmaker that can pull it off should be applauded. That being said, while Union Square follows all these rules, following the rules alone doesn’t guarantee it will be an indie hit made for the mainstream.
The film revolves around two estranged sisters in New York City’s Union Square neighborhood, one of whom is on the verge of getting married while the other is ready to have a nervous breakdown. Lucy (Mira Sorvino) has just broken up with her boyfriend and, rather than sob in the middle of the street, she surprises her sister Jenny (Tammy Blanchard) at her apartment.
What follows is eighty minutes of family drama with a group of people that at first glance, appear to have very little redeeming qualities. You want to feel bad for at least one of them but every character in the story has so many flaws that the audience has a hard time rooting for them.
Producer Neda Armian and screenwriter Mary Tobler created the movie almost on a whim. “Let’s just shoot something. Anything! Shoot in my apartment. It’s yours,” Armian states. The result is exactly what you might expect from a group willing to shoot anything for the sake of creating. That’s not to say that the production isn’t well done or the acting is lacking, both are surprisingly good, but the story itself was a challenge for me to get through.
The character of Lucy is abbrasive and over-the-top, lets just stay in first ten minutes alone she sets her dog loose in her sister’s apartment, has a nervous breakdown, and literally invites herself over to stay for a few days. Her sister begins no better. While Jenny is written as more reserved, she is also much more arrogant and great at playing the victim. The problem for me was that her character is so uptight and has so many rules that it is hard to feel any compassion for her. Even the presence of her fiancé Bill (Mike Doyle), one of the only men in the film, doesn’t help the story much because he too seems like a stereotype. Bill is written as a handsome, athletic businessman that is also a vegan. The fact that the couple only eats natural and organic foods was probably meant to deepen their personalities but for me was unrelatable. Perhaps these characters, like the film itself, are just asking the audience to give them a chance. But for me, the connection never came through.
“In the end, the parameters of production we had envisioned liberated the writing process and enabled us to go even deeper and travel even farther emotionally,” explains Tobler. While I’d agree the confined area certainly brought the emotion of the characters to the forefront, these emotions didn’t move me to care for their causes. Perhaps, as a man, I just couldn’t relate to these wacky women but then again when has the opposite sex ever really understood.
Union Square opens Friday July 13th in NYC and Los Angeles. Watch the trailer.