Asubtle, measured performance by Olympia Dukakis highlights this modern day fairy tale set in Hoboken, N.J. Supporting actors are also right-on, and sentimental, ethnic drama clears new ground for director Allan Arkush, best-known for youth-oriented comedies, including “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” and “Caddyshack 2.”
Three generations of the Garaventi family live in a Hoboken home, headed by grandmother Rose (Dukakis) and husband Joe (Louis Zorich). All three generations of men — Joe, Michael (Joe Penny) and young Joey (Yannick Bisson) are police officers, though the family has a loose relationship with local hoods.
Rose had a crush as a teenager on Frank Sinatra, which she playfully maintains to the present day. And when Joe died, unexpectedly, it’s Sinatra’s voice she hears in her dreams, she believes, telling her to get on with her life.
It turns out that Joe had gambled away his savings, and the deeds to the house and his basement men’s club, to local mob chief Patsy (Philip Bosco). A longtime family friend, Patsy gives them several months to repay a $ 40,000 debt — until he turns the paper over to his less-understanding superior, Marco (Richard Cox).
It all works out in the end. Other subplots involve Mike’s relationships with his wife (Lynne Cormack) and mistress (Audrey Landers); Joey, a recent police academy grad who’d rather play rock ‘n’ roll guitar; and romantic problems faced by Joey’s sister, Gina (Chelsea Garaventi). Ol’ Blue Eyes himself appears at the last minute with only three words of dialogue, but they’re the right three words to bring mist to the eyes of anyone who isn’t already bleary.
While drawing extensively from ethnic stereotypes, Judith Paige Mitchell’s script doesn’t clobber the audience with them, and she and Arkush have fun at times with the idiom and the subject — best joke may be that several early scenes are set on Catholic Church feast days, with climax occurring on the holiest day of all — Dec. 12, Sinatra’s birthday.
Senior mobster Patsy laments the new generation after a generation-younger mobster pulls a particularly nasty stunt. “This occupation isn’t what it used to be,” Patsy moans. “There’s no more ethics.” And entire subplot of Gina’s date is warmly funny.
In addition to steel-willed matron Dukakis, impressive perfs are given by Penny, Landers, Bosco and virtually all of the supporting players. Slight drawback is the apparent low budget, mainly notable in a couple of crowd scenes that could use more scope. Subbing for Hoboken, Toronto looks pretty much like Toronto, but most scenes are interiors, anyway.
Mason Daring’s soundtrack uses several Sinatra recordings, from Capitol and Reprise labels, serving as fairly obvious wallpaper — Joey tells of his ambitions to be a musician, “Dream” pops up on the soundtrack; Rose is in her bed, worrying, up pops Frank with “Someone to Watch Over Me.” Overall, “Young at Heart” is a strong effort, of which all involved can be proud.