There are two films that I can specifically point to (and the entire ouevre of Alfred Hitchcock) that caused me to drop out of Villanova and pursue a film career (which led me to Hofstra University and then USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program). The first is Darren Aronofsky’s Pi. The second is Edward Burns’ The Brothers McMullen. It may have been the second that sealed the deal. Mostly because this was a film about a life I knew so intimately. Irish Catholics on Long Island (although the film is set in Queens, Burns’ himself is from Valley Stream). It hit home and sent me a message, you can do this too.
He followed it up with an excellent sophomore effort, She’s the One. Then had a great turn in Saving Private Ryan. His studio acting roles after that were in pretty sub-par movies, but he did choose a film starring opposite DeNiro. How can you fault him for this? I can’t. Everyone growing up in NY that is into film even a little has Robert DeNiro as a hero.
Then he made Ash Wednesday and completely miscast his brother role with Elijah Wood. It wasn’t a bad movie, but he ruined it. He was just miscast. And his writing/directing efforts since then have continued to stray from what made Ed Burns Ed Burns… until Nice Guy Johnny.
This film is not only a return to Burns’ Long Island roots, but a resurgence in his filmmaking. He went back to the drawing board for this one and even shot it for the same budget he made Brothers McMullen for – $26,000. It is here, making due with less – that Burns shines. It is his characters and writing that are the stars, not the actors themselves. Or the camerawork. Although the camerawork and lighting are much better than I expected for such a budget. In fact, it was one of the better digital films I’ve seen. He doesn’t lose you in his camera movements and places the camera where it doesn’t distract.
Burns himself is great as Uncle Terry, a kind of swarmy uncle to Johnny Rizzo, a would-be sports talkshow host. Matt Bush is okay as Johnny, and you can actually see him getting stronger as an actor as the movie progresses. There are times when you want to smack him, but I think this is intentional. Johnny joins his Uncle Terry for a day/night in the Hamptons before a big interview in NYC that Monday. He is facing a large life dilemma, keep a promise to his fiance to get a ‘real’ job when he turns 25 or continue following his dream. It is reminiscent in some ways of Finn’s character (although he was older) in Brothers McMullen. I guess the reason I liked the movie so much is because I could relate directly to this. I have faced this situation a few times in my life. Dropping out of school to pursue film. Moving to California to go to grad school. Focusing a year or so of my life on lacrosse rather than film to pursue that dream. And continuing to be a mind divided (fighting, film, lacrosse – all vs. money). It was well-crafted, didn’t spoon feed us and was played out rather naturally.
Something that was definitely odd was the height difference between Rizzo and Kerry Bishe’s Brooke. She towers over him, and this makes it all somewhat hard to believe. But if that is my chief complaint, then I guess it really isn’t that bad.
I enjoyed how he didn’t have Johnny wind up with the girl right away. He let the situation play out, rather than giving us a Hollywood twist or plot point – something Burns’ is really good at. Because lets face it – you don’t leave your fiance for some hot chick you just met the day before. But his fiance from the jump is a real bitch. I wanted to mush her in the face immediately… she could have been toned down just a bit.
All-in-all, this film is definitely worth checking out. It’s faster than a ride out to the Hamptons and a lot more enjoyable.