×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Last Rites of Joe May

Set in the gentrifying West Town of Chicago, "The Last Rites of Joe May" poses a genre question: What would Dennis Farina be like in a cowboy hat?

With:
With Dennis Farina, Jamie Anne Allman, Ian Barford, Meredith Droeger, Chelcie Ross, Gary Cole.

Set in the gentrifying West Town of Chicago, “The Last Rites of Joe May” poses a genre question: What would Dennis Farina be like in a cowboy hat? Playing a fading, low-level hood in writer-helmer Joe Maggio’s contemporary Midwest Western, Farina recalls Burt Lancaster in “Atlantic City,” but also Will Penny, as he plays Maggio’s titular wiseguy for all he’s worth. Exposure will be limited, but some savvy exploitation of Farina’s charisma could pay off at the B.O.

It might be the last roundup for Joe May (Farina). Wracked by fits of coughing and weak at the knees, Joe leaves a county hospital in Chicago, where he’s been recovering from pneumonia, with no one to meet him but a city bus: In a characteristically economical Maggio gesture, Joe gives up his seat for one woman, and another promptly gives him hers. The unhappy Joe has a glorified sense of his own importance on the streets of Chicago, but how alone he is will be the catalyst behind Joe’s late-inning epiphany.

Joe is not particularly likable — Farina characters are seldom very cuddly — but viewers have to sympathize: Arriving home, he finds his apartment rented out from under him during his seven-week hospital stay, his landlord having assumed he was dead (in a pretty wild storyline leap). In his place he finds Jenny (Jamie Anne Allman) and her daughter Angelina (the terrific Meredith Droeger). Jenny’s desperate enough to let Joe stay in the apartment in exchange for rent; he’s desperate enough to accept.

It’s not hard to see that Joe’s armor-plated cynicism will eventually crumble before Angelina’s bruised charms and turn him into something resembling a rounded human being; he warms toward Jenny, whose abusive relationship with a Chicago cop (Ian Barford) ignites his sense of righteousness. He also tries to re-establish himself among Chicago’s low-level criminal class, hustling whatever the reigning wiseguy (an apparently uncredited Gary Cole) will let him have. In one instance, his efforts to unload 50 pounds of New Zealand lamb turn into protracted slapstick.

The film is much better in its quieter moments between Farina and Allman, or between Farina and young Droeger, who demonstrate real chemistry. Nothing goes very right for Joe, who’s a sort of Rip Van Winkle of the Chicago underworld, except his burgeoning friendship with the girl, who shares his interest in birds; in a salute to films like “On the Waterfront,” Joe keeps pigeons on the rooftop, as a pastime and handy metaphor. He also listens to opera, the strains of Verdi indicating that even thought he may have spent much of his life on the lower rungs of the moral ladder, his heart has harbored wells of artistic yearning. Despite all this boilerplate gangster-with-a-heart-of-gold stuff, there’s an emotional payoff to “Joe May” that feels solid and right.

Tech credits are fine, with d.p. Jay Silver giving a nice sense of the Chicago that exists out of eyeshot of the Sears Tower or Inland Waterway.

The Last Rites of Joe May

Production: A You're Faded Films and Billy Goat Pictures presentation, in association with Steppenwolf Films. (International sales: XYZ Films, Marina Del Rey.) Produced by Bill Straus, Stephanie Striegel. Executive producers, Tim Evans, Denis Mastro. Co-producers, Carrie Holt de Lama, Terry Kinney. Co-executive producers, Michael Bloch, James Brown, Vince Granatelli, Russell Scalise. Directed, written by Joe Maggio.

Crew: Camera (color), Jay Silver; editor, Seth Anderson; production designer, Merje Veski; costume designer, Emma Potter; associate producer, Larry Fessenden; casting, Claire Simon. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (competing), April 29, 2011. Running time: 102 MIN.

Cast: With Dennis Farina, Jamie Anne Allman, Ian Barford, Meredith Droeger, Chelcie Ross, Gary Cole.

More Scene

  • Charlize Theron speaks at the GEANCO

    Charlize Theron Talks 'White Privilege,' Growing Up During Apartheid in South Africa

    Charlize Theron, during an onstage discussion with her “Gringo” costar David Oyelowo about philanthropy at Thursday’s annual fundraiser for Nigerian children’s educational and health program GEANCO, said she was a beneficiary of “white privilege” while growing up in Apartheid-torn South Africa. “I obviously am a white person who benefited from my white privilege,” Theron said [...]

  • Lyliana Wray, Sam Ashe Arnold, Miya

    ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark’ Revival Team on Living Up to the Series’ Legacy

    The 2019 revival of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” centers around the Carnival of Doom, a place that star Jeremy Ray Taylor (“It Chapter Two”) describes as “beautiful on the outside, but…in the middle of it, there are definitely dark secrets. Variety caught up with the young star during a carnival-themed celebration at Row DTLA [...]

  • Charlize Theron'The Addams Family' film premiere,

    Charlize Theron Speaks Immigration, Diversity in ‘The Addams Family’

    They’re creepy, they’re kooky, and they’re an allegory for immigration in America.  Charlize Theron discussed the changing face of the nuclear family and her animated film, “The Addams Family,” with Variety at the movie’s recent premiere at the Century City Mall in Los Angeles. “When you think of [the Addams] being around since the sixties, [...]

  • Emma Stone attends the Los Angeles

    Emma Stone Talks 'Cruella' Transformation, New 'Zombieland' Sequel

    Despite inevitable comparisons to Glenn Close’s iconic turn as Cruella de Vil in 1996’s “101 Dalmatians,” Emma Stone teased that her take on the infamous villain in the upcoming “Cruella” movie will be very distinctive. “It comes long before her story,” Stone told Variety at the premiere of “Zombieland: Double Tap” at the Regency Village [...]

  • Gwyneth Paltrow arrives at the 2019

    Gwyneth Paltrow Honored at amfAR Gala

    Gwyneth Paltrow received one of this year’s courage awards at amfAR’s annual gala on Thursday night in Los Angeles. Paltrow’s longtime friends Dan Bucatinsky and Don Roos presented her with the award. “I didn’t prepare anything because I don’t think I really believe in thank you speeches, but I did want to thank amfAR for this,” [...]

  • Variety’s Power of Women Gift Bag

    Variety’s Power of Women Gift Bag: Sneak Peek

    While there are only so many cover honorees, everyone will go home a star this Power of Women Los Angeles. Each guest will receive a large Shopping Tote provided by The Little Market, and screen-printed by Homeboy Industries. Item inclusion ranges from product in entertainment, beauty, health, fashion, and more. Missed your chance to attend? [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content