29th Street Dec 4, 2020 16:11:02 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Dec 4, 2020 16:11:02 GMT -5
29th Street (1991)
Directed by: George Gallo
Directed by: George Gallo
Frank Peace, Lainie Kazan, and Anthony LaPaglia.
29th Street opens with an anxious Frank Pesce Jr. (Anthony LaPaglia) arriving at the New York State Lottery drawing, for which he is a finalist — with the chance to win $6.2 million. He has always been enviably lucky throughout his life, but when the announcer calls his name, he fidgets, tears off his nametag, and flees the arena. He finds himself chucking snowballs at a local church before being picked up by the New York Police. Upon learning of his newfound riches, the detectives are even more baffled by Frank's actions. The good news is they have time and so does Frank, so of course he relays his story to a sizable chunk of the precinct on a snowy winter's evening.
Literally since birth, Frank has been a lucky man. On the night of his birth, his mother (Lainie Kazan) was rushed to a different hospital than planned — and the hospital she was scheduled to be at burned down that very evening. Born and raised in the Italian-dominated Queens, Frank's been able to coast thanks to his good fortune and his amiable nature. He's been a factotum much to the dismay of his moral but luckless father, Frank Sr. (Danny Aiello). His father is even more bitter when he purchases a handful of lottery tickets for New York's first ever state lottery only to discover his son — who bought one ticket at an antique shop on a whim — is a finalist for the $6.2 million prize.
To spoil the ensuing events is a crime I'm not willing to commit, but let's just say, Frank Sr. has been a degenerate gambler for quite sometime and is indebted to Louie Tucci (Vic Manni), whose very name makes him sound like a walking, talking mob cliché. We get the idea that Frank Jr. hasn't really thought of others many times in his life, despite being raised in a tight-knit Italian family. The potential of riches gives him the opportunity to ponder — if against odds — that he could do something beneficial for a change. But it comes at a hefty price coupled with a great deal of drama.
The film is based on a true account of Frank Peace, who plays Frank's younger brother Vito in a small role. It's a reminder of how the stranger-than-fiction stories of life are often the most riveting, especially when upon adaptation they're infused with humor and soul, which 29th Street bears en masse. It's captured with the ethos of a big Italian family insofar it's filled with warm yet hard-nosed characters with moral compasses that aren't very malleable.
Danny Aiello shines as the patriarch, whose manhood is constantly challenged by his son outperforming him with little effort. It's a bitter pill that reminds you how life isn't fair; some guys have all the luck, as Rod Stewart once said. Aiello has all the warmth of a blue-collar Italian father who has ostensibly taken one step forward and two steps back his entire life. Every film in which he has a prominent role, it's as if we're gifted one or two impassioned monologues from him. Here, his "I am not a loser" speech is equal parts enthralling and heartbreaking.
Anthony LaPaglia also flexes his chops in a rare starring role. He functions swimmingly as a feckless individual who learns that luck and good fortune can be a curse as much as a blessing. The film's Christmastime setting makes it a sweet, if slightly vulgar, addition to the never-ending canon of unassuming yet powerful holiday flicks. It takes a slowburn approach in establishing the backstory of the Pesce family, which makes its character development so strong when the third act becomes a touch more frantically paced. Overtime, it evolves into a mystery of sorts as you try and put the pieces of the puzzle together in your mind before the story circumvents. 29th Street proves itself to be a parable and a damn good one at that.
If there's a bone to pick, it's that the ending comes off as too tidy given the events that precede it. Thankfully, it's made likable as the dialed-up sentimentality ends up being earned. We've grown to bond with these characters so much that, after a breathless third act, it's nice to be afforded a little peace of mind, despite the incredulity. I could see 29th Street become one of my holiday staples to watch annually during Christmastime. Maybe you will too. It's worth a shot given the same old fare plays season-after-season.
NOTE: Being that the Anchor Bay DVD of 29th Street is out-of-print and consequently very expensive, it's a blessing you can view the entire film on YouTube:
Starring: Anthony LaPaglia, Danny Aiello, Lainie Kazan, Frank Peace, Rick Aiello, Vic Manni, and Donna Magnani. Directed by: George Gallo.