Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Step up to the plate: THE QUITTER, about baseball and relationships, proves Matthew Bonifacio's best film so far

Best known, I suspect, as the director of the unusual attempting-weight-loss movie, LBS (2010), and also the very interesting Amexicano (from 2009, but actually shot after Lbs), Matthew Bonifacio is back again with a new film opening this week in which this good young filmmaker has managed to remedy some of the problems inherent in his earlier work: a few too many cliches, creaky plot mechanics, choppiness and the occasional tendency toward melodrama. THE QUITTER tells the tale of a fellow named Jonathan (played by Bonifacio), who his father has labeled a quitter, and how he suddenly finds himself faced with the opportunity to make good on a couple of past mistakes. One of these has to do with baseball, but the other, a much more significant one, involves a past relationship and the product of that affair.

Considering all that might occur, given the story here, perhaps the most impressive thing about The Quitter is how thoroughly its filmmaker (shown at right) has renounced anything melodramatic. Instead his film is wonderfully quiet and all the more believable for this. Bonifacio builds his scenes slowly but surely until, by the film's finale, they are fraught with meaning and emotion.

When an old love surfaces in the neighborhood after nearly a decade, and Jonathan is faced not just with the woman but her (and his) eight-year-old daughter (whom he last saw as an image in a sonogram), opportunities for heavy-duty change suddenly confront the man.

How Bonifacio and his character handle all this is low-key and always creditable. While some of the other characters that revolve around the new threesome are not always so sure-footed, this adds a nice mix of humor and pizazz to the film.

In the role of Jonathan's ex girl-friend, Georgie, who is suddenly back in his life in a major way, Julianna Gelinas Bonifacio (above and further above, who I'm guessing is the director's wife) proves a smart choice. The actress -- playing the role of a woman who has been hugely wronged and now finds it difficult to open herself to what may be another disappointment -- is angry, hurt, closed off and very slow to warm up. All of which works well.

The single scene in which she loosens up -- she's had a snort of coke, you see -- is wonderfully funny, and we view an entirely new side of the woman. Natasha Lyonne (above) does a nice cameo appearance here, as a smart, helpful ballet instructor.

In the roles of Jonathan's parents, both Deirdre O'Connell (below) and Dan Grimaldi (above) get their opportunity to shine: he darkly and she with her usual warmth and wisdom.

As Georgie's young and a little too free-spirited neighbors, Erin Darke (below) and Henry Vick are a lot of fun and a little bit troublesome, too. They add nicely to the fizzy mix that keeps spritzing our leading players.

In the role of the "new" daughter, Destiny Monet Cruz, below, proves adorable (a prerequisite for child actors these days), but she never overuses this feature and so appears a pretty good little actress at this point in time.

The Quitter proves a quiet, honest movie. What it lacks in excitement, it more than makes up for with a type of kindness and authenticity we don't see often enough in independent film. His movie may not set the world on fire, but I believe you'll be pleased that you took a chance on it.

The movie opens this Friday, September 12, here in New York City at the Regal E-Walk for a week's run. Elsewhere? Don't know. But eventually, one hopes, there'll be VOD, streaming and DVD.

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