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By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 04, 1994


Martha Coolidge
Geena Davis;
Stephen Rea;
James Gandolfini;
Aida Turturro;
Philip Bosco;
Jenny O'Hara
Under 17 restricted

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Look at it this way: "Angie" was supposed to star Madonna. Instead, Geena Davis pinch-hits in the title role of Angie Scaccaipensieri, a sly, wisecracking Bensonhurst babe suddenly trapped on a marital and maternal treadmill.

That's one thumb up on casting alone.

Unfortunately, even Davis's valiant efforts and ebullient charm cannot overcome the thin characterizations, implausible plot twists and maudlin sentimentality of Todd Graff's script (by way of Avra Wing's novel "Angie, I Says"). And while director Martha Coolidge took her time exploring familial confusions and a young girl's sexual coming of age in "Rambling Rose," she seems shackled here, unable to explore anything but the surfaces of relationships.

Angie works in Manhattan, but she's not dodging her blue-collar Brooklyn roots; that's clear in her style, her manner, her accent and her attitude. Still living at home, she's engaged to boyfriend-since-eighth-grade Vinnie (James Gandolfini), a fine plumber of everything but Angie's heart. She's still pals-for-life with overweight Tina (Aida Turturro), who has unhappily realized their shared elementary school dreams of marriage and kids. At 27, though, Angie is something of a late bloomer.

The one ache in her heart is a long-absent mother, described as a "free spirit" who spirited herself away when Angie was a toddler and remains idealized in a single fading photograph. Not surprisingly, Angie starts dreaming of something better as her tightly knit neighborhood begins to close in on her like a wool sweater left too long in the dryer. When Angie finds out she's pregnant, happiness is way down on the list of reactions.

Then her luck seems to change. Going to the art museum by herself -- Vinnie just can't see it -- Angie meets Noel (Stephen Rea), a charming Irishman who's quick with emotional hooks, lines and sinkers that a wise gal like Angie should be able to spot a smile away. Clumsily, Angie splits with the clearly confused Vinnie, falls into an affair with Noel and decides to have the baby by herself.

Complications set in at birth and Angie soon finds herself at a crossroads: As a mother, she feels a need to run away from a troubling future; as a daughter, she feels a need to uncover the troubled past. Setting off to find her mother, Angie is really looking for herself. Along the way she discovers who the really decent people are in her life and learns that "the less broken have to take care of the more broken."

Clearly, all this is intended to unleash some massive tear-jerking. So why doesn't "Angie" provoke that reaction?

One problem is that director Coolidge tries to balance humor and pathos, but serves the former better than the latter; even then, a number of jokes about height, weight, class and hard-to-pronounce names seem better suited to sketch comedy. Angie's motherhood and her emotionally draining search for roots are, indeed, dramatic, but too many crucial events seem to fall like ducks in a row. And while the supporting characters have color, they seldom have depth. And neither does this movie.

"Angie" is rated R and contains adult language native to the region.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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