An eccentric ride through the ethno-cultural amusement park of a conjured-up Coney Island, “Lucky Days” serves primarily as a showcase for the formidable talents of Angelica Torn, who wrote, co-directed (with brother Tony) and stars as a character who’s a mix of Cinderella, Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett and Natalie Woods’ Daisy Clover. A limited theatrical run begins Aug. 6 at Brooklyn’s IndieScreen, and while general auds may be put off by the odd nature of the work, it should have a healthy, cultish afterlife for the very same reason.
Paul Newman, credited here as “producer emeritus,” apparently threw his moral/financial support behind Torn, the daughter of longtime Newman friends Rip Torn and Geraldine Page. One can see why the central character might have engaged the late actor: Virginia (Angelica Torn) is all things to all people, except herself. It’s she who cares for an extended family that includes her mother (an unhinged Marilyn Sokol), the mute Bobo (Rip Torn), her stripper sister Nina (Tina Benko, in a hot-pink wig) and Nina’s various children, including triplets (all played by Miranda Torn). Next door is Virginia’s putative fiance of 18 years, Vincent (Federico Castelluccio, “The Sopranos”) whose mother (Anne Jackson) hates Virginia, either because she’s a Russian Jew, or because she’s not Italian. Virginia’s Olympian efforts to be Italian include creating a marinara sauce that satisfies her would-be in-laws, which, as anyone might guess, is an exercise akin to rolling a big rock of parmesan up a tall hill.
Like the Coney Island in which it’s set, the film recalls the past — not just in the characters Angelica Torn has written, but in the shooting and editing; the abrupt cuts and isolated closeups that open the film evoke ’40s film noir as well as the faux-doc effects of Morris Engel (whose landmark “Little Fugitive” was also shot in Coney Island).
The style perfectly suits the film, which depicts a beach resort frozen in its memories, warped in its nostalgia and regressive in its thinking: Virginia is denied sex by her longtime noncommittal beau, who considers her too special to be defiled, but not too special to be slapped. The worldviews, rooted here in an Italian universe of princely sons and imperial mothers, verges on the anachronistic, but “Lucky Days” is a fable, and broad characterizations are the stuff of even morbid fairy tales.
Leading a top-flight cast, Angelica Torn is terrific as Virginia, who, driven by her traditional upbringing to view Vincent less as a man than as a mountain that must be conquered, lives for others, nursing a few unlikely dreams. She works as an attendant at a long-term care facility, for instance, but wants to be a doctor. And she maintains a self-discipline that reassures her she’s really not like everyone else in the ‘hood: She doesn’t drink, she pretends not to smoke and she doesn’t think about sex (and when she does, she takes an ice bath). She succumbs to all these vices by movie’s end, including a tryst with the long-ago boyfriend, Zeth (Luke Zarzecki), who comes back into her life and, as itinerant/romantic movie men tend to, knocks her off her unsteady perch.
Production values are uneven, but Christopher North’s music reps a notable asset.