04/13/2013 06:43 pm ET Updated Jun 13, 2013

Popcorn Preview: Down the Shore

Film: Down the Shore (2011)
Cast includes: James Gandolfini (The Sopranos), Famke Janssen (X-Men), Edoardo Costa (Live Free or Die Hard), Joseph Pope (Tinsel Town)
Director: Harold Guskin (directorial debut), Writer: Sandra Jennings (debut feature film)
Genre: Drama (93 minutes)

Jacques's hand-cranked marry-go-round is one of only 10 left in Europe. At least, that's what it says in Susan's guidebook of Paris. Susan and Jacques strike up a conversation, and over coffee, she tells him she needs a guide... "I'll pay you." Three months later, Jacques finds Bailey at the Jersey shore... looking a bit down on his luck. "Are you the brother of Susan?" "Excuse me? You know where she is?" Bailey asks. "She's died," Jacques says. "I promised to bring her back home and give you a letter she wrote." Bailey's confused. "She was my wife," says Jacques. By the time Bailey stumbles out on beach with Susan's ashes, he's fall-down drunk. He buries the urn in the sand and cries himself into unconsciousness. He doesn't wake up until his best friends, Wiley and Mary, find him. "Susan's dead," Bailey says. "This French guy showed up.... My sister came back in a fucking urn.... She had cancer and didn't want to tell nobody."

The next day when Bailey looks out the upstairs of his little bungalow, he sees Wiley's wife Mary in the window next door. "I feel like I'm dreaming... like I'm 17 again." From the conversation, we gather that Mary and Bailey used to be sweethearts. (That's a long story.) The spell is broken by a knock at the door. It's Jacques. It's a good thing because Bailey has some questions. "My sister left with a shitload of money. (Another long story.) Know where it is?" That's when Jacques tells Bailey Susan left him her half of the house. "My house?" "Our house." "What do you want... money?" asks Bailey. "Work," Jacques tells him. "Susan said we'd be a good team." As it turns out, Bailey has a group of kiddie rides, including a cantankerous marry-go-round in the shadow of the big roller coaster. He struggles to keep his landlord paid. (That would be Wiley... another long story.) So while Bailey's not at all that happy about having Jacques around, the Frenchman does come in handy. "He's conning us," Bailey tells Wiley. On the other hand, "What if he's telling the truth."

It doesn't take long to figure out that complex backstories are as important as what happens next, and the narrative has to skillfully weave them together. James Gandolfini is the only big-name actor in the film, but certainly not the only one to give an excellent performance. This is the debut feature film for both the writer and director. And despite having James Gandolfini on board, it definitely has the texture of an independent film. Some of the themes are familiar from mainstream movies, but the independent tone of Down the Shore allows some of the melodramatic moments to feel less predictable. As Bailey's mood alternates between grumpy and severely grumpy, Jacques is suspiciously optimistic. What does he know, anyway? The problems among these friends aren't so easy to sort out. "We all gotta pay for our sins," Bailey and Wiley agree.

3 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
Bailey's life is going nowhere, and now a Frenchman arrives expecting to be part of it

Popcorn Profile
Rated: R (Language, crime, drugs)
Audience: Grown-ups
Distribution: Art house
Mood: Sober
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished realism
Character Development: Engaging
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought provoking

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