29Th Street

  • 1991
  • 1 HR 41 MIN
  • R

Aside from the unfortunate R-rated language, 29TH STREET is an otherwise delightful family film in the classic Frank Capra tradition. Not that 29TH STREET is in the same league with IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, the most beloved example of "Capracorn," but it is reminiscent of the latter in that it relates one essentially decent man's life story, in flashback...read more

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Aside from the unfortunate R-rated language, 29TH STREET is an otherwise delightful family film in the classic Frank Capra tradition. Not that 29TH STREET is in the same league with IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, the most beloved example of "Capracorn," but it is reminiscent of the latter in

that it relates one essentially decent man's life story, in flashback and over a period of several decades, with beginning and concluding sequences during Yuletide.

It's Christmas Eve, 1976, somewhere in the Italian-American community of New York City. Frank Pesce, Jr. (Anthony LaPaglia) is mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore. Rewarded for smashing snowballs into the windows of his local Catholic church by being marched by an irate priest down

to the police station, Frank responds to the detectives' questions by telling them his life story ... and of his curse of good fortune. From birth Frank has been incredibly lucky. When his mother (Lainie Kazan) went into labor prematurely, she was rushed to a hospital different from the one she

had expected. That same night, the hospital Mama had originally targeted for his birth burned down. Later, Frank was knifed by a girlfriend's irate brother, but instead of a painful inconvenience, the wound ended up being a blessing in disguise: the incision made by the knife revealed a

soon-to-be-malignant tumor that the doctors caught in time to save Frank's life. Frank avoided the Vietnam War because his eccentricities were mistaken for lunacy by his local draft board. Even the car Frank tries ditching into the river to collect its insurance is found not once, but twice by the

insurance company and returned to him, good as new. The reason Frank is so mad this particular Christmas Eve is that he's just won $6 million in the first New York lottery. The mitigating circumstances surrounding his seeming good fortune are revealed during the course--and finale--of 29TH STREET.

First-time director George Gallo (he scripted the Robert De Niro hit, MIDNIGHT RUN) based his movie on the story of character actor Frank Pesce, Jr., who appears in 29TH STREET as his own older brother, Vito. Pesce, Jr. had a small role in MIDNIGHT RUN and it was during the lensing of that film

that he approached Gallo with the idea of telling a touching father-son story based on his own charmed life. Co-written by Gallo, Pesce, Jr. and James Franciscus, 29TH STREET is a decent piece of work marred only by the aforementioned spate of four-letter words, which, while perhaps authentic,

nevertheless detract from the warmth and humanity otherwise evinced onscreen. The cast is wonderful, with Danny Aiello, as Frank Pesce, Sr., the primary scene stealer. The father-son relationship is beautifully executed and both Aiello and LaPaglia make the audience feel the love and hate they

feel toward each other. Aiello plays a father who's proud of his son despite his petty envy of his son's good fortune, while he must struggle on, year after year, to make ends meet, always the loser. Lainie Kazan (MY FAVORITE YEAR, BEACHES) delivers a searing portrayal of the wife, mother and

sometime referee between father and son. The love and devotion displayed during the family's chief crisis and resolution is especially poignant, a grand demonstration of conjugal loyalty that makes this film a lovely paean to family life. One might describe 29TH STREET as MEAN STREETS meets IT'S A

WONDERFUL LIFE, though it's much closer in spirit and story to the latter than the former. (Profanity.)

Cord-Cutting Guide. Credit: Robert Rodriguez / TV Guide

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