A cute idea about three longtime male friends who simultaneously chance to connect with three promising women is developed in disarming and lively ways in “The Week That Girl Died.” Limited production means and an almost docu-like verite shooting style won’t help this New England-lensed indie gain much leverage in the commercial arena, but further fest exposure and some cable/TV airings will help make the film an effective calling card for director Sean Travis and other talents involved.The manners in which two of the three potential couples meet appear unpromisingly contrived at first, but by the end come to seem sweetly ironic, even meaningful. Jimmy (Robert Longstreet) ducks into a low-end peep show booth and finds himself more drawn to than aroused by the girl on the other side of the glass, Marita (Justina Machado). Vinnie (Erik Palladino) is attending his uncle’s funeral when he literally bumps into Jessie (Brigitte Bako), an attractive young woman who says she’s been at services for her aunt in the adjoining chapel. The next day, Saturday, the two guys join their more neurotic buddy Ralph (Patrick Fischler) for a ritual repast at a luncheonette in their working-class port town. Scenarist Rocco V. Iacovone’s storytelling becomes enjoyably splintered at this point, as each young man relates what happened to him the day and night before. Once this is accomplished, action leapfrogs ahead into the subsequent week to advance and consolidate the intrigues and emotional attachments only just initiated. Jimmy, as he relates it, managed to flag down Marita on the street and initiated a refreshingly open and honest relationship with a woman who turns out to be much more dimensional than the job she performs might have suggested. By contrast, Vinnie gets nothing but grief from Jessie; she leads him on, hiding the fact that she’s married, then lies that her husband is dead, has daringly public sex with Vinnie, and finally turns out to have been harboring some truly momentous secrets. But the oddest experiences are reserved for weird Ralph, a 25-year-old virgin who on Friday had a mutual deflowering with the insecure, overweight Elaine (Shana O’Neil), who wanted one sexual experience before joining a convent, and shortly thereafter manages to bed the woman he’s long desired, waitress Cheryl (Michelle Azar), only to piss her off with the disclosure of what happened with Elaine. There are further developments along these lines, which gratifyingly become more intriguing and credible as they unfold. From a rather hokey beginning, director Travis ultimately steers the film toward a grounding in truth and fundamental human qualities. “Are you a good person in your heart?,” Marita asks Jimmy early on, and the characters suffer to the extent that they are deceptive and stray from the decency that is within them. Performances by the relatively unknown ensemble are winning without being showy, and thesps all come through in the moments when they need to step up. Serviceable but rather threadbare tech aspects are boosted by crisp pacing and musical interludes featuring Louis Armstrong tunes. Title refers to a surprising development that crops up late in the picture.
A Rocco's Cat presentation in association with Grant Wheeler. Produced by Carla Diamond. Executive producers, Rocco V. Iacovone, Robert Longstreet, Craig Spirko, Sean Travis. Co-executive producer, Todd Darling. Directed by Sean Travis. Screenplay, Rocco V. Iacovone.
Camera (color, 16mm), Craig Spirko; editors, Travis, Robert Longstreet; music, Kevin Eubanks; production and costume designer, Roslyn Moore; sound, Jim Ridgely, Marcus Racaud; casting, Felicia Fasano. Reviewed at American Film Institute, L.A., Oct. 16, 1998. (In AFI Film Festival.) Running time: 90 MIN.
Cheryl - Michelle Azar Jessie - Brigitte Bako Ralph - Patrick Fischler Jimmy - Robert Longstreet Marita - Justina Machado Elaine - Shana O'Neil Vinnie - Erik Palladino