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Two Family House  

Cast: Michael Rispoli, Kelly Macdonald, Katherine Narducci, Kevin Conway Directed by: Raymond De Felitta Written by: Raymond De Felitta

Perhaps I'm being a tad too cynical, but I get the feeling if any child with a dream had a nickel for every time he or she was told that dream wasn't possible, they'd be able to retire right about the time they would normally enter the work force.


While we live in a society that thrives on the decorous notion that any dream capable of being conceived is equally capable of being achieved, we are nonetheless surrounded by a thundersquall of negativity - anyone within earshot commanding us to throw in the towel.

A similar situation is operating in full force for the loyal Buddy Visalo - a man with big dreams (and genuine talent) who gave up his one shot at stardom when faced with the possibility of alienating his family. "Two Family House" is the story of Buddy's latest - and possibly last - opportunity at capturing the dream which has eluded him for so long.

A natural crooner, Buddy (marvelously played by Michael Rispoli) had an opportunity to showcase his mellifluous talent on national television if only his soon-to-be wife, Estelle (Katherine Narducci) had given him her blessing. Alas, she didn't and the end result was another defining life moment left callow. He subsequently married Estelle and took the obligatory steps to live a normal life.

But his modest dreams of greatness still linger in the back of his mind, although have been reduced to a numbing sequence of failed moneymaking schemes. Yet the tenacious crooner is convinced that his latest idea is a sure-fire winner: he will buy a two-family house, the upstairs will be their residence while the downstairs will be converted into a neighborhood bar where Buddy can perform for his customers.

Many obstacles stand in his way - including the disbelief of his friends, the extensive repair work needed by the apartment, and of course, the acerb remarks from his wife regarding any endeavor Buddy feels passionate about. However, the most daunting opposition to his dream are the tenants currently living in the upstairs apartment: a pregnant Irish woman named Mary O'Neary (Kelly Macdonald) and her much older, drunken husband (Kevin Conway).

They steadfastly refuse to vacate the premises, and after a verbal confrontation with Buddy and his friends, Mary suddenly goes into labor. After the successful birth, her perfidious husband immediately abandones her and her new baby. Consumed with guilt for having to evict the lonely single mother, Buddy decides to secretly help her find a place of her own.

He grows fond of the intriguing young woman, and soon comes to the realization that of all those in his convoluted life, she is the only one who truly understands him.

"Two Family House" is a gentle story about a decent, loyal man who has sadly been trapped for years in a life of despondency surrounded by those who gleefully take advantage of his inherent kindness, yet who finds emotional fulfillment via that very same streak of decency. His need to do the right thing is the catapult that lifts him toward happiness while alienating those who for years kept him in tow with an abjuratory leash. What begins as an act of a guilt-ridden conscience soon transcends into an all-consuming plight for Buddy. Not only does he find the Irish mother an apartment, but works double-shifts to pay for the place.

We know his secret liaison will have its repercussions, although it doesn't unfold the way we might guess - but in a much more shocking manner during a conversation with his wife. (Her response to his infidelity isn't at all what one would expect from a cheated-on spouse, which makes it absolutely jaw-dropping.) Only then does Buddy fully realize that he is, and would always be, a stranger in his own upbringing.

Writer/director Raymond De Felitta conveys his point while showering his story with plenty of heartfelt moments as well as some amusing lines of dialogue ("c'mon, it's a beautiful day, let's go sit in the bar") all culminating into a sweet-natured tale of a man who may not always do the smart thing, but is constantly driven to do the kind thing which ultimately paves the way toward emotional consummation.

Michael Rispoli is an actor who houses some disinct character quirks, making him a natural in supporting actor roles. (He was the obnoxious Joe Fusco, Jr. tenaciously pursuing Sandra Bullock in "While You Were Sleeping.") He's a true delight to watch here, bringing his quirks to a performance that also carries a great deal of dignity. Kelly Macdonald is also very effective as the young Irish woman who possesses a loyalty similar to Buddy's (she married her drunken husband as a promise to her dying father), but whose loyalty has caused her to distrust anyone wishing to help her.

Rather than fighting, struggling, and eventually realizing one's dreams of happiness - Buddy's fulfillment sprouts from a seed of decency. His dreams are reached through the sublime notion of acting from the heart. Reaching our own individual dreams by reaching out to others... now there's a concept we can live by.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney Critically Ill

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