It took over a decade for director Eric Mendelsohn to follow up his 1999 debut, Judy Berlin, but his sophomore effort, 3 Backyards, plays like it could have come out in 2000 or even in 1990, when Sundance was loaded with intimate human dramas shot in actual locations not often used by Hollywood.
The director returns to Long Island to tell a triptych of tales that transpire over a few hours in a sleepy, seemingly idyllic Long Island suburb. John (Elias Koteas) is having unspecified marriage problems. After a business trip is unexpectedly delayed, he uses that time to just wander around, but keeps bumping into an immigrant woman trying to get a job. Meanwhile, housewife Peggy (Edie Falco) gets an unexpected knock on her door from a celebrity neighbor, an actress (Embeth Davidtz) of some note, who asks Peggy for a ride to the ferry. On the same day, eight-year-old Christina (Rachel Resheff) loses her mother’s bracelet on the way to school, and must get it back from a seemingly disturbing stranger.
With a film that serves up so little in the way of plot, the photography and the actors need to carry the load, and in those two regards the movie holds together -- though sometimes just barely. The cast is engaging, but the movie is so delicate that the performers mute their charisma. Koteas has a great face, and although we can always tell that John is feeling emotions very deeply, much of the time we’re not sure exactly what the emotion is. Falco and Davidtz are two superb actresses, and their big scene is a showcase of understatement --- which is impressive since both of them are on the verge of tears through most of it. In fact, “understatement” is the perfect word to describe Mendelsohn’s entire approach to this material, yet sometimes he gives us so little it’s unclear if he’s “stating” anything at all.
There are numerous close-up shots of animals and plants to remind us that humans are out of place in this world, and that’s pretty much the overall point of the film itself -- we watch three recognizable characters who, through the course of normal interactions with strangers, suddenly realize their lives either aren’t as good, or as bad, as they thought. That’s not exactly a revelatory goal for a filmmaker, but Mendelsohn’s subtleness fits his aims perfectly. He’s not demanding you pay attention, just pointing out that if you are open to the world you might be surprised by what you discover about yourself.
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- Released: 2010
- Rating: R
- Review: It took over a decade for director Eric Mendelsohn to follow up his 1999 debut, Judy Berlin, but his sophomore effort, 3 Backyards, plays like it could have come out in 2000 or even in 1990, when Sundance was loaded with intimate human dramas shot in actua… (more)