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January 29, 2007 12:13 AM
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PARK CITY '07 REVIEW | New York Shuffle: Alfredo de Villa's: "Adrift in Manhattan"

A scene from Alredo de Villa's "Adrift in Manhattan." Image provided by the Sundance Film Festival

The intersecting lives that amble throughout "Adrift in Manhattan," director Alfredo de Villa's good-natured but forgettable New York street life drama include a young Latino named Simon (Victor Rasuk) who snaps photographs of just about everyone he meets. One person in particular captures his attention. Rose (Heather Graham), an eye doctor, first appears on a Manhattan park bench wearing a pretty scarf that contrasts with her sour facial expression. Rose is separated from her husband Mark (William Baldwin) for reasons described in a flashback involving their infant son late into the movie. By the time Rose and Simon meet face-to-face, in an act of unbelievable intimacy, the meandering storytelling method practiced by de Villa (He co-wrote the script with Nat Moss) is clear. "Adrift of Manhattan" is a pile of loose threads and anyone desiring dramatic finality will leave disappointed.

Elizabeth Pena gives the most grounded performance as a lonely grandmother who falls for a handsome but ill co-worker (Dominic Chianese). William Baldwin shuffles along amiably as Mark, a man desperate to reconcile with his wife. His shaggy beard, perfect for a high school English teacher, reflects his affable demeanor. Baldwin is not in the film enough to make a lasting impact one way or another.

Graham is the poster girl of the ensemble, receiving most of the spotlight and screen time. She may wear a white lab coat and point to a vision chart but you never accept her as an eye doctor. Only her bad bedside manner is slightly believable. As Rose, Graham is supposed to be beautiful and gloomy. Her attractive looks are a given. Rose's deep depression, the most important part of the character, is beyond Graham's range.

As the film's voyeur photographer as well as the its narrator, Victor Rasuk makes a handsome poster boy for New York street life. But de Villa and Moss never give his character a chance to be his own man, to be more than just a thread connecting the other characters together. "Adrift in Manhattan" may turn out to be the better-known film thanks to Graham's celebrity profile but Rasuk is much better in "Raising Victor Vargas" and de Villa showed more promise in his debut drama "Washington Heights."

Overstuffed storytelling and unresolved subplots aside, one moment in the film, an easygoing scene of naturalism, hints at de Villa's humanistic potential as a storyteller. Dominic Chianese's lonely old man is preparing to go out and discovers a hole in the left knee of his black trousers. So he rubs a spot on shoe polish on his skin so nobody will notice the hole. It's a brief subtle moment in a film filled with melodrama. Still, it's the only scene that I remember with a smile.


ABOUT THE WRITER: Steve Ramos is an award-winning film writer based in Cincinnati, Ohio. When not on assignment, he maintains the blog Flyover Online.

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