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On Broadway
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by Jay Seaver

"Most cities have a Broadway, even Boston."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL OF BOSTON: "On Broadway" is a nice little film, one which perhaps garnered disproportionate affection from the audience by dint of not only being set in Boston but entirely filmed here, with a mostly local cast to boot. I don't think that this film would be considered anything like a big deal outside of Boston, but I could be wrong: There's not a heck of a lot wrong with it.

The film follows Jack O'Toole (Joseph McIntyre), who is inspired to write a play after the his beloved Uncle Pete's wake. His family, especially father Martin (Sean Lawlor) and cousin Billy (Lance Greene), are less than enthused about this - play-writing is for playwrights and family business is private. When he finishes the play, six months later, and wants to mount it, things get tougher - Jack's wife Kate (Jill Flint) thinks the time and money could be better spent on their leaking roof. He's able to get his wife, brother Rolie (Mike O'Malley), and friend Neil (Lucas Caleb Rooney) on board, and soon has a cast. He manages to get space in a local bar, but of course things can't go off without a hitch.

A large part of the appeal of On Broadway is its big heart. There aren't any real villains in the piece, just people who need to be more willing to share their feelings. The other guys in the film don't quite know what to make of Jack's sudden touchy-feeliness, and ride each other pretty hard, but the film doesn't ever go overboard with the posturing and tough-guy routine we often see in stories about city-dwelling Irish folks. There's also no mention of gangs or crime. The people argue and swear and don't always say it, but they all love each other.

The cast is interesting in that it seems to combine people who have carried big studio production with local Boston folks and yet seems to gel. I'm still not quite convinced that Joseph McIntyre is right for films (I hear he's done well on stage), but his Jack rings true enough; he's able to make us believe in Jack making this grand gesture without Jack himself becoming larger than life. I can't recall ever seeing Jill Flint in much of anything, but she's pretty solid as Kate. Lucas Caleb Rooney is a pretty nice surprise, too, giving a heart to what initially looks like just a wiseass sidekick. Lance Greene and Sean Lawlor do well with a couple different shades of gruff; I imagine that Lawlor has played the emotionally walled-off Irish father quite a bit, since he seems so physically suited to it and does it so well here.

In fact, the bigger names are mostly reserved for comic roles. Eliza Dusku's Lena pushes her way into being the show's lead actress, and Dusku gives Lena an amusing self-awareness: She's trying hard to be citified and worldly but is unable to pull back from crushes and other enthusiasms. Mike O'Malley gets a lot of laughs as Jack's brother Rolie, a wisecracking barfly of a guy who hangs out with his childhood buddies, whose day job just happens to be as a priest. Less well-known is Dossy Peabody, whose character plays the grieving widow in the play but has a sharp tongue off stage. The comic MVP has to be Will Arnett, though - he's in about five scenes, if that, but manages to make each of them about ten times funnier than it would be otherwise.

On Broadway is a bit of a roman a clef; writer/director Dave McLaughlin did in fact mount a play in a Somerville bar after a death in the family (indeed, it was just a couple blocks away from the theater where we saw the film). He does a good job of using his authentic Boston locations well enough that no native will be taken out of the film - although I wondered what Waltham's Skellig bar was doing in Jamaica Plain - and everyone should get the feel of a real, tight-knit community. He also does well in taking what was a real, emotional experience for him and getting a lot of laughs from it. That's not to say that McLaughlin avoid sentimentality - he embraces it - but the temptation to overdo things can be pretty severe.

There's a certain segment of the population that has a knee-jerk reaction against this sort of film; it does want to pull at heartstrings and isn't shy about that intent. If you like that, though, this one does it well.

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originally posted: 05/19/07 02:07:02
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Independent Film Festival of Boston For more in the 2007 Independent Film Festival of Boston series, click here.

User Comments

3/22/08 Matt B compelling, poignant and thought provoking-well done 5 stars
6/26/07 Mike Sheehy WOW ...I HOPE IT GETS IN THEATERS. Audiences will LOVE it! 5 stars
5/21/07 David Learned Great Feel good movie, 5 stars
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  DVD: 26-Nov-2008



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