In independent filmmaking there’s a comforting near-truth: Good independent films are more likely to see release than bad independent films. Indie pictures don’t have gargantuan marketing budgets to cover a movie’s mediocrity—or outright badness—with advertising blitzes, marketing campaigns and viral videos.
No, the cream usually rises to the top. That’s why you’ve never heard of The Four Corners of Nowhere.
Then there are films like Nancy Savoca’s Union Square. It proves an exception to the rule. How could a movie this simultaneously bland and irritating see release?
These are questions for which I have no answers. The lead, Lucy (Mira Sorvino), is loud, obnoxious and willfully clueless. The cliché of “bull in a china shop” was invented for people like her.
Then there’s Jenny (Tammy Blanchard), the quieter, more retiring character. They’re sisters (of course). They’re estranged (natch). They look nothing alike (but this is the movies).
The story, which is slight, does, at least, open some interesting doors through which the characters may walk. Unfortunately, the characters look at those open doors and decide not to.
Lucy and Jenny have been estranged for years. Lucy, who may be stuck in a bad marriage (though when her husband shows up, he doesn’t seem all that bad; then again, nothing’s fleshed out), takes the subway from the Bronx to Manhattan and gets off in Union Square to meet a fling. The fling isn’t having it, so Lucy crashes at her sister’s live/work loft nearby.
Jenny is not only surprised to see Lucy, but she’s terrified that Lucy will destroy the perfect home she’s set up with her fiancé, Bill (Mike Doyle). Jenny has been living a lie, telling her fiancé she’s from Maine and leaving out lots of other family details—such as her sister and mother (Patti LuPone), who are nuts. Jenny has become vegan and has, more or less, given up drinking and smoking—two things that Lucy does as if her life depended on them.
Over the next couple days, Lucy takes over the live/work space (where Jenny and Bill run an eco-friendly business). She accompanies Jenny to the farmers market in Union Square. She takes Jenny to a club and they have a conversation in which the sound mix is so muddled it’s difficult to understand what Lucy is saying.
The gist of everything: Mom’s dead. Lucy had to take care of her until the bitter end. Mom was rotten to everyone. (This notion is undercut by footage of Mom in which she appears to be merely eccentric.)
So Jenny has to face some hard truths. Maybe Lucy does, too. Unfortunately, Sorvino’s portrayal of Lucy is so off-putting that Jenny’s decision to lie about her family seems reasonable. I wouldn’t want her showing up at my door, either.
Then there’s the problem of the screenplay’s loose ends. Bill, when presented with the idea that his fiancée has lied to him for years about her family, doesn’t seem put off or angry. He’s confused, but gets past it pretty quickly.
And then there’s Lucy’s family, including her husband, Nick, and son, who make a late appearance. Why is Lucy cheating on this guy? Just because? That’s fine, but the murkiness behind the affair is more interesting than what’s happening on screen.
One could make the argument that, because Lucy and Jenny’s mother was so difficult, they’re both fucked up to the point that they would lie and cheat and do anything to feel better. There’s no evidence of that difficulty, though. We hear a couple stories from the sisters, but Mom’s one piece of screen time—the aforementioned video, a tribute put together by Nick and Lucy—is fairly banal.
It would be callous to make a tribute to Mom that shows her as crazy but, if her daughters are going to describe her as crazy, showing her just being batty isn’t enough.
There are germs of a complete family drama here. Unfortunately, those germs aren’t that interesting and they’re not given a shot to develop. Blanchard does well, but everyone else flounders in a nebulous stew of whatever.