Saturday, April 18, 2015

“The Wannabe”– Movie Review



This weekend at the Tribeca Film Festival, I screened the World Premiere of the new drama “The Wannabe”, starring Vincent Piazza and Patricia Arquette. 


When an aspiring mobster tries to become a member of John Gotti’s gang, he gets rebuffed – but can he prove his worth by making a name for himself in a life of crime?


In 1992 New York City, Tommy (Piazza) is obsessed with the ongoing trial of noted mobster John Gotti – not only does he post newspaper clippings on the wall of his modest Bronx apartment, but he also attends the trial on a daily basis, observing in the courtroom and cheering on his hero.  In fact, Tommy even crashes the homecoming party for Gotti in the mob boss’s Queens neighborhood.  Although not entirely welcome as something of an outsider, it presents an opportunity for Tommy – he meets a local woman named Rose (Arquette), and the two are immediately attracted to each other. 

Tommy confesses to Rose that he desires to be in the crime world with his hero; he has even memorized lines of dialog from famous movies about the underworld.  Unfortunately for Tommy, he’s small-time; he’s been to jail for robbing a video store and is currently on parole and unemployed.  Also, his family has no connections; his older brother (Michael Imperioli) is a Bronx florist and doesn’t even remotely share Tommy’s interests.  Rose, however, has her own dark side; with a history of serious drug abuse, the idea of having a boyfriend who’s a criminal appeals to her. 

When Tommy tries to make his way into Gotti’s group, they make it clear to him that they don’t think he has what it takes to be one of them.  Rejected, Tommy and Rose set out for their own adventures, even going to the extent of holding up known mobsters in their own hangouts while she drives the getaway car.  With increasing success, their money affords them luxuries that include drug abuse, which only fuels more stick-up jobs.  Eventually, Tommy becomes upset with Curtis Sliwa (Daniel Sauli), leader of The Guardian Angels, who has his own local radio show; Sliwa uses the show to be highly critical of Gotti during the trial.  Teaming with Rose, Tommy plans to take out Sliwa – but the job is botched and Sliwa, although shot, is not seriously injured and manages to survive the attempted hit.  But with mobsters upset at Tommy’s actions, can both he and Rose avoid their revenge?


Piazza and Arquette completely knock it out of the park in their respective role as Tommy and Rose.  The two are perfectly matched and truly become their character.  Together, they are a joy to watch in this gritty, pre-Giuliani New York City drama about two lost souls who found each other, albeit for a short time only.  They are able to successfully access the nuances of these two comedic-tragic lovers desperately in search of direction and meaning in life.  While they both pursue a lifestyle that is neither enviable nor admirable, the audience can empathize with them as underdogs. 

“The Wannabe” is written and directed by Nick Sandow, who did a fine job shooting the scenes where the couple are in a drug-induced haze, as well as a Scorsese-influenced overhead shot in the last scene of the movie.  Unfortunately, due to the fact that it’s a small, independent low-budget film, some scenes do tend to have a cheap feel to them.  The screenplay has a distinct air of reality about it, interspersing actual television news footage from the time.  He seems to have a genuine understanding of who these characters are and how they speak.  One troublesome point, however, is some business about possible juror tampering that tends to get a bit murky. 

Following the screening, some of the filmmakers took questions from the audience.  Sandow said that while he did some research on the characters, he wanted to dramatize the story a bit more, so he did not adhere to all of the details; he said that he found about a half a dozen pieces of information about the characters which he used for the basis of his screenplay – other than that, the rest of the story was a fictional depiction.  Piazza said that his involvement in “The Wannabe” came about as a result of a series of coincidences; he had agreed to participate in a reading of an earlier draft of the script and later, ran into Sandow while shooting an episode of “Boardwalk Empire”.  Once he informed Sandow of his interest in playing this Rupert Pupkin-style pseudo-mobster, Piazza then passed the script along to his boss, Martin Scorsese, who became one of the film’s executive producers. 

The Wannabe (2015) on IMDb

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