by Mike Miliard
Now that movies are almost always in color, one has to wonder about the
decision to use black and white. Sometimes it works -- in Clerks, the
monochrome drew attention to the trenchant dialogue and captured the blah-ness
of suburban New Jersey. Sometimes it doesn't -- Celebrity, say, where it
seemed no more than a gimmick.
In Eric Mendelsohn's Judy Berlin, B&W makes the movie. Capturing in
stark tones both the quiet desperation and glints of hope in a small Long
Island town, Mendelsohn makes the wisdom of his choice apparent as the film
climaxes against the eerie twighlight of a total eclipse.
Thirty-year-old David Gold, just returned from a dream-crushing LA defeat, is
living with his mother (a superb Madeline Kahn in what must have been her last
performance) and father in a seemingly unbreakable funk -- until he runs into
Judy Berlin (The Sopranos' Edie Falco), an old school acquaintance. A
goofy and spunky local actress, Judy couldn't be farther removed from David.
Yet when she confesses to a high-school crush, the two spend an afternoon
reminiscing and finding more in common than they expected. As the eclipse
envelops the town in an eerie and magical gloom, David, Judy, and other
townsfolk wander the streets, connecting with one another in almost Joycean
Judy Berlin is the kind of movie people should see more of -- I guess
that's why it's in the Nickelodeon's Shooting Gallery Film Series. Falco is a
joy as the boisterous title character (the rest of the cast, including Barbara
Barrie as Judy's mother and Julie Kavner and Anne Meara, though wasted in tiny
roles, are great too); she and Mendelsohn's masterful direction and the
accomplished cinematography give beautiful life to this black-and-white world.
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