“Can you be a Singing Star ... Screw ’em ...Why NOT?,” reads the banner of the Make Your Own Record carnival stand, as Buddy Visalo (Michael Rispoli, Summer of Sam ) sways to the accordion accompaniment of an Italian-American ballad. It’s karaoke, ’50s style. The microphone’s his dream lover as he leans toward it crooning kisses. You’d think he was Staten Island’s blue-collar Sinatra.
Buddy’s reaching for the stars, but not that high. He’d be content to be a one-hit wonder. But his fiancee, Estelle (Katherine Narducci, from HBO’s “The Sopranos”), offers him an ultimatum: marriage and a real job or singing and his dream. Buddy chooses life with Estelle (a twin bed and a room in her family’s house) and a machinist’s gig.
Staten Island’s blue-collar Sinatra turns into its Ralph Kramden: a clown prince of the failed big idea. Two disastrous businesses behind him, Buddy takes what could be his last shot at being a contender. He buys a rundown two-family house planning to make the second floor a home and convert the first floor into Buddy’s Tavern, his own business and a showcase for his talent. There’re only two problems: an alcoholic curmudgeon, Mr. O’Neary (Kevin Conway, The Confession) and his pretty, very pregnant young wife, Mary (Kelly MacDonald, The Loss of Sexual Innocence) who refuse to leave their second-floor flat. Soon, a problem baby makes three, inciting drama within Buddy’s Two Family House.
This House is a fixer-upper. Its plot is slow to build and it gives little motivation for the extreme actions of its main characters. It sometimes plays like a laughless episode of a revisionist “The Honeymooners.” But its foundation is strong, focusing on cultural, racial and marital relationships in ’50s America in a fresh — and surprising — way. Two Family House holds a happy ending and a moral: If you throw your life away for love, you might get a better one.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.
James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.