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A lonely, but talented teacher enjoys a flirtation with her married principal, who returns her affections but is hampered by his high-strung wife. He is also hampered by a deadbeat son, who supposedly is becoming a filmmaker. The teacher also has a clueless daughter, who is an aspiring actress. Filmmaker and actress manage to get together, while the teacher and principal can steal their own fleeting moments and a quick kiss during an eclipse. Written by
John Sacksteder <email@example.com>
JUDY BERLIN (2000) ** Edie Falco, Barbara Barrie, Bob Dishy, Madeleine Kahn, Aaron Harnick, Julie Kavner, Anne Meara.
The Sundance Film Festival has recently been the equivalent of the farm system in baseball: the pick of the crop for the big leagues. Once again it has managed to make a small, independent film a chance at the 'show' with the winner of the 1999 Best Director Award with new filmmaker Eric Mendelsohn's unique comedy/drama.
Edie Falco (the Emmy winning delight of HBO's juggernaut series 'The Sopranos') stars as the eponymous character as a slightly goofy woman whose desire to move to California to pursue her dream of being a real actress is set in the day in the life of her last day in the dream like visage of Babylon, Long Island, where her current gig is as a historical recreationist (i.e. like going to Colonial Williamsburg to see how the settlers lived).
Also included in the series of vignettes are her mother Sue (the wonderful character actress Barrie, late of tv's 'Suddenly Susan') as an elementary school student who inspires her students to prepare for the day's solar eclipse; Dishy as the school's sad-faced principal; Meara and Kavner (also vets of the comedy pantheon better known for the better half of Ben & Jerry and Marge Simpson, respectively) as the school's secretary and kitchen worker.
The only connecting theme overall is how mundane life can be when one's full potential is either aborted, forecluded or non-existent and equal parts could be argued for Dishy and Kahn's mopey 30 yr.old filmmaker son (Harnick, the real-life son of Barrie) who happens upon Falco and tags along for her last day home, discovering some little known secretive points of interest.
Mendelsohn's shoe-string budgeted production only enhances the simplistic yet well acted piece and provides a dreamy ethereal plane of existence with his economically yet artistically smart use of gorgeous black and white cinematography (kudos to Jeffrey Seckendorf) suggests an endless timepiece. What he lacks in big scale opportunity is compensated for a fine comic timed performance piece.
Sadly this was Kahn's swan song and she gives a nicely layered performance of daffiness mixed with an innate sadness the best of all clowns by the way in their art as the housewife to Dishy, who realizes that things aren't so great after all. Her sing-song deliveries are priceless in her dewy-eyed optimism.
What is lacking however is any real one character to root for or hold a more potent interest more than the sum of its parts when instead a sprinkling of eccentricities and divine human emotion predominate the film as a whole; not a bad thing at all.
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