New Year Parade, TheReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 11/16/09 23:39:17
The glib description of "The New Year Parade" is that divorce is hard on everybody - not just parents and children, but everyone else caught up in it, including the parade orchestras. Fortunately, the movie itself isn't glib, just honest and extraordinarily well-made, given how truly independent this independent movie is.It opens with television coverage of Philadelphia's Mummers Parade, a New Year tradition where various musical clubs march and are scored on their performances. The South Philadelphia String Orchestra didn't do so well this year, but that's not all that's on the minds of some members - Mike MacDougal (Andrew Conway) is bothered by the fact that he didn't see his daughter Kat (Jennifer Welsh) in the crowd at the usual place, although his son Jack (Greg Lyons), also a member of the orchestra, tells him that's hardly surprising, since their mother Lisa (MaryAnn McDonald) wouldn't want to come, considering the separation. It sets the next year up as a struggle, not just for the band, but for the MacDougals.
Divorce sucks. It is not, in and of itself, a bad thing, to be avoided at all costs - by the time a couple gets to where the MacDougals are, it may be the best thing they can do. Still, nobody enjoys the process, and director Tom Quinn has put together a series of scenes that capture how helpless and angry the whole thing makes a person feel, as well as how it skews even seemingly unconnected things. I can't personally look at any particular scene and say, yes, I've been there - everyone's experience is different; I was away at school and missed much of the everyday tension when my parents split - but there's not a single one that doesn't feel genuine.
That is, in large part, due to the excellent performances by the cast. The acting is doubly impressive when you consider that many of the cast members had no previous acting experience, and may not do anything else. Take Jennifer Welsh, who is fantastic as Kat; this movie is the teenager's debut, and she has since gone to college to major in sculpture and perhaps become a high-school art teacher. She's completely genuine, whether because of that or in spite of it. Part of it is because much of what we see is her doing things, rather than talking about them, but she doesn't ever over-emote when given dialog or a scene that is about showing how Kat feels. Similarly, MaryAnn McDonald had no experience, and while she winds up with the smallest part of the four family members, she gets the job done.
Andrew Conway and Greg Lyons, meanwhile, were already performers of different sorts - Conway a tango dancer and instructor, Lyons a musician - so it's a bit less of a surprise when they impress. Lyons is particularly good, looking maybe a little older than his character's twenty-five years (or how young working-class men actually look, outside of Hollywood), capturing the character's passive-aggressive vibe beautifully: He's going to be the good son, and maybe he doesn't even realize that he's trying to show who has the moral high ground. He makes Jack very much Mike's son in that way; Conway manages to give Mike a well-realized combination of pent-up aggression and desire to do right by his family. He's great in the scene where he seems to snap; he's a little scary, enough to make us a little nervous around him even though all indications are that he hasn't done anything wrong.
That's the family drama part of the movie, which generally takes the forefront, with the scenes of the band preparing for the next Mummers Parade providing background. Quinn uses it well; it never threatens to overtake the MacDougals' story, and serves as a nice reflection of it, as the tension between father and son start to form cracks in the band. It provides an interesting and unique background, though, and Quinn has obtained excellent access. During the last act, with New Year's approaching, Quinn blurs the line between narrative and documentary footage, showing the preparation.To be totally honest, there were moments when I might have liked to see more of that; it's unique and interesting. But they're just brief moments, where we want more, which in no way detracts from what the movie is offering us.
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