Detailing the trials and troubles of a working class Italian-American family, where brothers Paul Sorvino and Tony Lo Bianco try to persuade the latter’s sensitive son (a slightly too old Richard Gere) to join them in the construction business. Gere has more of an interest in working with kids, and gets a job offer by doctor Floyd Levine at the local hospital. Dad of course, sees social work as woman’s work, and belligerently disapproves, but he gets some support from his waitress girlfriend (played by Marilu Henner). Meanwhile, Lo Bianco’s frustrated wife Lelia Goldoni has become mentally unstable and her lashing out at their youngest son (Michael Hershwe) has led to his anorexia. Kenneth McMillan plays a disabled bartender, whilst various well-known character actors and faces play construction workers (Danny Aiello, Robert Costanzo, Eddie Jones, etc).
This 1978 Robert Mulligan (“To Kill a Mockingbird”) tale about a seriously dysfunctional Italian-American family is too broadly played, stereotyped, and overly familiar to have much resonance today. Scripted by an Oscar-nominated Walter Newman (“The Magnificent Seven”, “The Man With the Golden Arm”) from a novel by Richard Price (“The Colour of Money”, “Sea of Love”), it’s pretty much all over the shop, as are the performances. Tony Lo Bianco and especially an unrestrained Lelia Goldoni are the worst offenders. Lo Bianco, often typecast as Italian-American hoods, gives us a stereotype of Italian-American machismo, misogyny, occasional brutality, and just general hamminess. Occasionally there seems to be a real character in there, but largely it’s just too much of a ‘performance’ and it is more fitting of the stage. His character is also largely unpleasant and uninteresting, especially the longer the film goes on. But at least he has his moments, which cannot be said for the ghastly Goldoni, whose shrieking, mugging, wailing performance, coupled with a pathetic, basically psychotic character derail the film. She’s truly awful, both character and actress. A young Richard Gere is a bit better, but with his phony Bronx Italian-American accent and somewhat lothario ways, it felt to me like Gere thought he was playing the role infused by the spirit of John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever”. I also found his character’s arc frankly an uninteresting cliché, and at worst, it seems to be sending a dubious message about masculinity at times.
The most enjoyable work comes from Paul Sorvino, Marilu Henner, and Kenneth McMillan, although it’s also amusing to see a pre-Freddy Robert Englund playing a wannabe stud in a small part. Sorvino (an underrated and long wasted talent) hams it up a bit, but one sees that as more a character trait than indicative of his actual performance quality. He’s certainly the most decent character in the entire film, aside from maybe Gere. He has a particularly great scene pouring his heart out to gruff, wheelchair-bound bartender McMillan.
At the end of the day, this is all very shouty and somewhat overbearing stuff for a story that isn’t all that memorable to begin with. There are moments, but not enough for me. Although a bit dated, the music score by Elmer Bernstein (“To Kill a Mockingbird”, “The Great Escape”, “The Magnificent Seven”) is the most appealing thing in this film.