A two-sisters drama set at the Jersey shore, “Me and Veronica” struggles between cleverness and banality. The Venice Film Festival unwisely screened “Me and Veronica” in the thick of competition, instead of a sidebar where it would have shone with an honest light. The outing may pick up some European ancillary market interest for the U.S. homevid release.
After five years of feuding– sparked when new bride Elizabeth McGovern discovered sis Patricia Wettig in bed with her husband — vivacious troublemaker Wettig stops in to visit.
An unwed mother and ne’er-do-well, she’s on her way to prison for welfare fraud. McGovern, the sensible sister, is also on the skids, hiding from life and men in a rundown shack in a New Jersey fishing town.
She doesn’t realize that peppy Wettig, who’s had two kids but no steady man, is emotionally on the brink.
In film’s most sustained and convincing sequence, the two spend the night crusing bars and playing daredevil on a bridge, in a carefree return to childhood. Then Wettig heads off to Rikers Island to serve her term. McGovern casually offers to take care of her children until she gets back.
Life without Wettig is as dull for the viewer as it is for foster mom McGovern. Without the arch Jersey dialogue that kept the sister scenes lively and tense, Leslie Lyles’ script falls into television sameness, with McGovern fighting off creeps trying to pick her up, carting the kids to the shoe store, and having life-changing encounters with matrons in the laundromat.
In a climax of self-realization, McGovern is shown making her first sales of sheet and pillowcase designs to a local store.
As the “bad” sister in a miniskirt, Wettig is a poetic foil to McGovern’s bitter inwardness. Both actresses deliver finely calibrated performances which attract and repel.
In comparison, the men around them — including John Heard as a friendly bartender and Michael O’Keefe as Veronica’s boyfriend — tend to interfere and disappear.
The professional cast is matched by solid, no-frills technical work. “Me and Veronica” is the first feature directed by Don Scardino, artistic director of one of New York’s leading off-Broadway theaters, Playwrights Horizons.
To Scardino’s credit, there’s no trace of staginess in “Veronica,” but his long experience directing television remains a mantle harder to shake off.