A phone call from a childhood friend you haven’t heard from in 25 years. And your friend is dying. That’s the inciting incident which sets off the action in Last Night in Rozzie, a feature film shown at the Hill Country Film Festival (HCFF), during its July 29-August 1, 2021 run. Based in Fredericksburg, Texas, HCFF began in 2010. The Hill Country Film Society runs the fest and sponsors year-round film and filmmaking education programs.
Last Night in Rozzie breaks two rules filmmakers try to live by: Don’t just have people talking to one another and avoid a lot of flashbacks. The film works anyway and draws you in to a complicated and emotional story. It won both Best Feature and Best of Fest awards at HCFF.
What is a Rozzie? My knowledge of Boston pretty much is limited to Sam Adams Beer. I learned that “Rozzie” is the nickname for the Roslindale neighborhood of Boston. That’s where Ronnie, played by Neil Brown Jr. (Seal Team, Straight Outta Compton), and his boyhood buddy Joey, played by Jeremy Sisto (Girl Flu, Batman vs. Robin), grew up. Baseball, as for many Bostonians, played a big part in their young lives and resulted in a trauma from which each of them suffered.
This, however, is not a sports movie. Trauma, relationships, addiction, and regret all play a part.
Ronnie left Boston and became a successful New York lawyer. When he receives that phone call from Joey, he learns that Joey is dying from cirrhosis of the liver. Joey asks Ronnie to visit and do one thing for him. Let him see his son from whom he has been separated for 10 years. Adding to the complexity, Joey had that son with Ronnie’s old flame Pattie, played by Nicky Whelan (The Girl in the Window, Scrubs).
If this is beginning to sound like a soap opera, don’t worry. It gets darker than any soap I’ve ever heard of.
As I watched the film it seemed a bit tedious at the start. This person talking to this other person. This other person talking to another person. A series of low-key conversations resulting in more low-key conversations. The first broken rule. But as it progressed, little clues and actions that did not seem to fit the characters began to draw me in.
Second broken rule: flashbacks. Flashbacks to Ronnie’s and Joey’s boyhood occur throughout the film. Sometimes long, other times just for a split-second. The filmmakers used this technique to tell two stories at once and to provide insights into the men’s personalities. Eventually, the stories converge in a shocking way.
After the screening, the film’s writer/producer and Rozzie native Ryan McDonough, spoke with the audience.
The screening at Hill Country Film Festival was special for the fest and McDonough. His idea for the film first came to life as a 15-minute short which played at HCFF in 2017. Bringing the feature version back to show was a milestone for him.
An audience member asked how he recruited the actors for his film.
He joked about raising money. Important as that was, he pointed out that you can recruit good TV actors if you film during the summer when they are looking for ways to keep busy. The child actors also attracted audience attention. He recalled the moment an actor for Young Ronnie came in and he said, “I thought to myself, ‘He’s perfect! Please be able to act.’”
McDonough also said that having child actors whose parents weren’t crazy also helps. “It was OK with the parents,” he said, “when one of the young actors yelled, ‘Wow! I get to swear!’”
On the personal side, McDonough admitted that the story drew upon some of his experiences as a kid. “The baseball field you see in the film,” he explained, “is where I played in Little League.”
Last Night in Rozzie opens on Amazon Prime and other streaming platforms in September.