Several lonely big-city lives intersect to a somewhat cathartic effect in “Adrift in Manhattan,” Alfredo de Villa’s (“Washington Heights”) second feature. A delicate piece with good performances and an intriguing enough setup, the drama ultimately doesn’t go anywhere definite or distinctive enough to leave a lasting impression. Mild thesp marquee value and the glut of similar, often bolder exercises in recent memory make this a so-so theatrical prospect, though it should do OK in cable and DVD arenas.
Twenty-year-old Simon (Victor Rasuk from “Raising Victor Vargas”) is a withdrawn, barely communicative young Manhattanite who works at a camera shop and lives with a mother (Marlene Forte) whose maternal affections verge on the incestuous. Too shy to have a girlfriend (or, it seems, any friends outside the workplace), his one pleasure is to snap photos of local color on the city streets.
Peering through the lens one day, he’s taken with an attractive, disconsolate woman in her 30s, sitting on a park bench. Fascinated, he follows her around, even continuing to photograph her through the windows of the brownstone where she apparently lives alone.
We soon discover that Rose (Heather Graham) is an optometrist still grappling with grief and anger some time after the death of her 2-year-old child (under circumstances not revealed until near film’s end). She’s separated from lit-professor husband Mark (William Baldwin), who keeps trying to woo her back.
One of Rose’s patients is Tommaso (Dominic Chianese), an aging bachelor whose dignified, slightly mysterious demeanor is belied by his humble job in a corporate mailroom. He’s kept that no-brainer occupation in order to focus more completely on his two private passions: painting and listening to classical music. It’s Rose’s unhappy duty to inform him he’s going blind. Offering one ray of light to Tommaso is co-worker Isabel (Elizabeth Pena), whose friendliness has a decidedly flirtatious edge.
In a reckless move, Simon one day decides to push some of the prints he’s made through Rose’s mailbox — throwing her into a panic. But he’s stamped his photo shop’s address on the back, and once she establishes some background on him, she surprisingly encourages him to keep following her around, finally inviting him in for what becomes a rather graphic (through emotionally fraught) sex scene.
With nearly everyone here grieving over some past or imminent loss, “Adrift” has the slightly over-familiar, borderline pretentious feel of so many melancholic criss-crossers a la “Magnolia” and “Crash,” which tether together disparate characters in service of a vague but important lament/prayer for humanity.
Fortunately, de Villa, co-scenarist Nat Moss and their actors favor thoughtful restraint over histrionics or gratuitous auteurial dazzle, lending the pic a quiet involvement and sufficient credibility. On the downside, a satisfying payoff never quite arrives.
Production package is modest but nicely turned, with Michael A. Levine’s score striking the right balance between sorrowful, tense and ethereal moods.