Two Family House
Two Family House
Do not be misled by the deceptively simply title of this terrific film. Two Family House, which premiered at
Sundance and picked up the audience award for dramatic feature, centers on Buddy Visalo (Michael
Rispoli), a factory worker with big dreams who has a tendency to be unsuccessful at translating those
ambitions into reality. In a flashback, the audiences learns that Buddy once had aspirations to be a singer
along the lines of his idol Julius La Rosa, but when he returned home to Staten Island after military service, he
was discouraged by his fiancee Estelle (Katherine Narducci) and her family.
Buddy, whose share of money-losing schemes include a pizza parlor, thinks he has finally found a hit. He has
purchased of the titular dwelling with the idea turning the second story into his home with Estelle while
renovating the downstairs area into "Buddy's Tavern," a restaurant-bar where he can also double as the
entertainment. Although his wife seemingly agrees to the plan, she has done so in the belief that one more
failure will persuade Buddy to abandon his pie-in-the-sky dreams and live a "normal" life.
Shortly after they move into the dilapidated building, Buddy and Estelle discover that they actually have
tenants on the second floor: Jim O'Neary (Kevin Conway), a loudmouthed perpetually drunk Irishman, and his
much younger, very pregnant wife Mary (Kelly Mcdonald). The couple refuse to vacate with ONeary pointing
out that the previous owners had attempted to evict him to no avail thanks to a loophole in the law. Buddy
enlists a group of his pals to help drive the couple out but, as fate would have it, Mary goes into labor the very
moment they arrive. Estelle and Buddy are drafted into helping her deliver the child and when Jim realizes he
could not be the boy's father, he disappears. (It becomes clear that the baby is a product of Mary's brief affair
with a black man.)
In order to maintain propriety and appease the nagging Estelle, Buddy is forced to evict Mary and her baby.
Being a decent chap, though, he feels guilty and for reasons neither he nor Mary understand, he eventually
helps her find suitable lodgings. Despite their initial mistrust, Buddy and Mary soon form a bond that leads to
a crisis for the married man.
Writer-director Raymond De Fellita based on the story in part on an incident in the life of his uncle. Using
voice-over narration, he makes it clear from the outset that there would be a relationship of some sort
between Buddy and Mary but the manner in which he allows the film to unfold retains the dramatic tension. As
this is a memory play, the spot-on production design and rich cinematography emphasize that quality without
being overbearing.
De Fellita has cast the film well, and with the exception of Conway who overdoes the irascible Irishman, all
are letter perfect, with special kudos to the three principals. Kelly Mcdonald adds yet another fine
performance to her growing resume. Although Mary is proud and appears indomitable, Mcdonald willingly
lets her quiet, vulnerable side come through. Her scenes with Michael Rispoli are gemlike in their
effortlessness and they make a terrific pair of unlikely lovers.
Rispoli (who has played his share of cops and gangsters) is superb as Buddy, who is no Einstein but rather
an average Joe with a sense of honor and duty suddenly forced to question his life decisions. The actor
beautifully captures the character's internal conflict and also projects the appropriate strength when Buddy is
forced to make a decision that could cost him everything.
Katherine Narducci (who like Rispoli has been featured on HBO's The Sopranos) has perhaps the most
difficult job in the film. As written, Estelle could easily be played as a harridan and come off as a
one-dimensional villain, but in Narducci's skillful hands, the character comes off as fully rounded. Her Estelle
is a victim of circumstance and the actress makes clear that Estelle pushes Buddy more out of fear and a
desire for conformity than out of malice. While the character is ultimately misguided in her attempt to control
her husband, Narducci was in full control of her performance.
Two Family House is a charming fable-like drama about an unlikely pair who discover their mutual attraction.
With an intelligent screenplay, excellent performances and strong direction, this film rankes as one of 2000's  
best love stories.

Rating:                 B+
MPAA Rating:                Rated R for language and brief sexuality
Running time:          104 mins.
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.