It's the summer of 1994, and the streets of New York are pulsing with hip-hop. Set against this backdrop, a lonely teenager named Luke Shapiro spends his last summer before university selling marijuana throughout New York City, trading it with his unorthodox psychotherapist for treatment, while having a crush on his stepdaughter.
DOWN THE SHORE is one of those little sensitive films that seems like it is lightweight until the secrets of the story begin to leak. It is a film about thwarted human relations that have a core of ill-define tragic misconceptions. It is well written (by Sandra Jennings), well directed (by Harold Guskin) and happens to provide a showcase for some inordinately gifted actors who usually are not given the attention they deserve.
The film opens in Paris where a handsome Jacques (the very impressive Italian actor Edoardo Costa) is cranking a carousel for children in a little park. Observing him is a winsome Susan (Maria Dizzia) who speaks no French but in a rare moment of instant chemical gaze we can see that she and Jacques connect. Susan hires Jacques to be her guide while she is in Paris - and then we see them no more. The scene changes to 3 months later when Jacques comes to Susan's home in New Jersey, meets her brother Bailey (a brilliant role for James Gandolfini), informs Bailey that Susan is dead, and gives Bailey a letter and Susan's ashes and informs Bailey that he and Susan were married in France: the letter confirms that Jacques is to own half of Susan's house which she shared with Bailey and Jacques suggests he and Bailey be partners. Bailey runs a small carnival park on the Jersey shore and Jacques is able to help him bring life back into the children's rides.
The other part of the story concerns Mary (Famke Janssen in excellent form) who is Bailey's childhood sweetheart but now married to Bailey's best friend, the covertly abusive crack addict Wiley (Joe Pope) who happens to own the little carnival park where Bailey works. Some talk between the two men suggests that their fathers were bad men but Wiley inherited his father's wealth and park and married Mary with whom he had a mentally challenged son Martin (John Magaro) while Bailey has remained single living with his sister Susan. The secrets of why Wiley is addicted to crack and physically abuses Mary while Bailey seems to do nothing about the woman he still loves is brought into focus by the wise Jacques, the one person who seems to be adjusted and happy despite his wife's recent death from cancer. In talks with both Bailey and Wiley, Jacques uncovers the horrid secrets that have bruised everyone's lives and what those secrets mean, and how the story works out must be withheld until the viewer experiences this film.
A stronger cast could not be imagined for this well written, well-directed film. The degree of identification with absolutely every character in the film is truly remarkable. This is a tale of the maladaptation to secrets of the past. And one of the many beauties of the film is the manner in which much is left unresolved or unsaid at the end.
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