Review: ‘North of Pittsburgh’

Rosa Andretti Viveca Lindfors

Rosa Andretti Viveca Lindfors

Tony Andretti … Jeff Schultz

Willy … Bryon Lucas

Gus … John Cassini

Patricia … Suzanne Ristic

Buddy … Mario Sweet

Louisa … Maria Gentile

Maria … Andrea Nemeth

Lise … Morgan Brayton

Leon … Jay Brazeau

Mr. Kent III … Dick Martin

MONTREAL–There is definite sleeper potential in “North of Pittsburgh,” a beautifully acted, sharply written comedy-drama with enough cross-generational appeal to warm many of the same hearts that were captured by “Fried Green Tomatoes.” Careful handling could pay off with nice B.O. coin.

Canadian-produced pic is a career-making breakthrough for leading man Jeff Schultz, who alsopenned the episodic screenplay, and another notable credit for vet actress Viveca Lindfors. Together, the leads fuel this entertaining road movie with heart, soul and a vital give-and-take.

Pic is set in 1975, with Schultz cast as aimless young Ontario man who earns a dangerous living running pot from Pittsburgh to the Canadian border. When he and his buddies bungle a delivery, Schultz finds himself in $ 8,000 debt to a hot-headed hood who’d just as soon kill him as collect.

Around this time, Schultz’s beloved grandfather, a retired coal miner, rouses from his deathbed long enough to make Schultz promise to take care of the older man’s wife (Lindfors). After the funeral, Schultz moves in with his grandmother, who neither trusts nor likes him very much.

Lindfors announces she wants to file a claim for compensation money offered by the U.S. government to black-lung victims like her late husband. Sensing a potential bonanza, Schultz offers to drive her to Pennsylvania to make her claim.

Bulk of “North of Pittsburgh” has Schultz and Lindfors on the road in Schultz’s clunky car, visiting distant relatives and coping with mining-company officials. Grandson and grandmother squabble a lot, talk a lot, and eventually bring out the best in each other. Finale relies on a healthy dose of feel-good Capra-corn, but it works surprisingly well.

Pic has slight similarities to Touchstone’s upcoming “Crossing the Bridge,” in that both dramas rely on plot device of U.S.-Canadian pot smuggling, and both are set in the mid-1970s. But the period flavor is evoked more strongly in “North of Pittsburgh,” even though the latter has cover versions of period tunes , not the original hits by the original artists. More to the point, “Pittsburgh” is the much better pic.

Richard Martin directs with self-assurance and flawless pacing. He also gives a neat cameo part near the end to the father, Dick Martin of “Laugh-In” fame. Other supporting players are first-rate.

Musical score by Graeme Coleman is exceptional. Other tech credits, including Tobias A. Schliessler’s fluid lensing and Brent Thomas’s evocative production design, are top of the line.

North of Pittsburgh

(Canadian--Comedy-drama--Color)

Production

A Cinephile release of an Acme Motion Pictures Inc. production in association with Telefilm Canada and B.C. Film. Produced by Kim Steer, Cal Shumiatcher. Directed by Richard Martin. Screenplay, Jeff Schultz.

Crew

Camera (color), Tobias A. Schliessler; editor, Bruce Lange; music, Graeme Coleman; production design, Brent Thomas; art direction, Doug Byggdin; costumes, Diane M. Widas, Gregory Mah; sound (Ultra-Stereo), Patrick Ramsay; assistant director, Stephen Reynolds; casting, Stuart Aikins; Reviewed at the Montreal World Film Festival, Sept. 2, 1992. Running time: 98 min.
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