New York filmmaker Ari Taub, best known for The Fallen (2003) produces, writes, and directs. His 79 Parts, screened as an official selection at this month’s Soho Film Festival in New York. Actors Aidan Redmond (he worked with Daniel Radcliffe in The Cripple of Inishmaan on Broadway), and Ryan O’Callaghan star in the comedy/action film, which also features dynamos Eric Roberts as Douglas Anderson, Tony Lo Bianco as Vincent and Sandra Bernhard as Mrs. Fletcher, all in supporting roles.
A period film set in New York City, 79 Parts, , is an interesting reminder of a struggling and nearly crippled New York just beginning to recover from the depths of the cultural and financial debacle of the 1970s. It was a very different period than present day New York and its luxury condos, building security checks, bag checks before Broadway shows, of ever-present posters “If you see something say something,” and massive global tourism.
Taub shot 79 Parts completely on film to convey a feel for the gritty, down-and-out setting. The filmmaker succinctly showcases time and place within the limitations of an indie budget. He selected areas of the city that walk us back to a time with which few are probably familiar in our present billion-dollar developers’ boom. This was a time when city property could be purchased for a song and developers had moved on to the Sun Belt. Only the most perspicacious considered New York a real estate boon; many in the outer boroughs were selling buildings and abandoning them, letting them go to seed rather than pay taxes on ruined property. It was the time for squatters; those in Broad Channel and Hamilton Beach, Queens started acquiring their property through squatters’ rights around this time.
Taub’s New York is actually a refreshing throwback to a time of idiotic small-time hoods, loan sharks, scam artists, gamblers and illegal Irish and Italian immigrants. The character mash up includes feckless, incompetent chop shop crooks supervised by Dennis Slattery (Aidan Redmond is convincing as the wily, thieving adulterer with a sharp Irish accent), and law student Jack Anderson (Ryan O’Callaghan is the hapless, clueless, virgin at twenty-three). Jack, who is an artist gone astray to oblivion, is preyed upon by Jack’s unscrupulous friend and fellow law student, Gino (Johnny Solo), Slattery’s nephew. Gino is obsessed with horses, racetracks and placing bad bets. Thrown into the mix are “goodfellas” gangsters (Lo Bianco and Roberts are masters of dead pan humor), annoying INS agents, various Irish and Italian illegals including Slattery’s girlfriend Anna (Daniela Mastropietro). All merge to create a general hash of events that eventually come together unpredictably by the film’s conclusion.
The fact that Taub found locations that could “fit the archetype” of a run down New York City is to his credit. I didn’t think such areas existed. The ’70s world that he creates (minus any archival film clips), that reflects the city’s past (graffiti was everywhere), is enhanced not only through the selection of apt locations, but with every detail of the retro costumes (bell-bottoms, flower print dresses, etc.), hairstyles, home interiors, props which are antique retro (dial phones, plastic flowers, etc.), and of course, the wonderful period cars which will make car guys swoon (maybe even Jerry Seinfeld of Comedians in Cars Drinking Coffee).
Into this backdrop figuratively painted on film, Taub introduces his two protagonists (Slattery and Anderson), who vie presumptively for the right to tell “their story” of the mucked up events that happened when Jack Anderson couldn’t pay his last semester’s law school bill (a lot cheaper in the 1970s, but relative to inflation, still high).
These two men couldn’t be more different. Slippery Dennis Slattery (Aidan Redmond negotiates the part with a winnable grace and humor), is a romantic who has a wife and girlfriend; he has been sneaking in illegal Irishmen (probably with dicey backgrounds as this is the time of The Troubles), to be his security team, steal cars and crew the chop shop he manages for Italian mobster, father-in-law Vincent (Tony Lo Bianco is humorous and believable in too small a role). Vincent who is doing a stint in jail in the style of Paul Cicero in Goodfellas is more concerned about the pasta being al dente than being incriminated by friend Douglas Anderson (Eric Roberts is always a natural stunner and believable as Jack Anderson’s free-wheeling, good-natured felon Dad),) who is doing time with him.
In contrast, Jack Anderson is yesterday’s version of a dweeb, today’s version of a nerd but with all the bumbling, lack of sophistication (with women), zero street smarts and opaque brain power that sometimes is just too vacant to be believed. He is such a hot mess, his character is rather a problem of script contrivance: he has the smarts for law school but his absence of intuition about his own family and his best friend Gino is a muddle of inconsistency. O’Callaghan does manage to steer around such gaps of logic with authenticity, however.
Jack is unable to get a bank loan. Frenemy Gino provides a tantalizing solution. He suggests Jack borrow double the money from his loan shark uncle Dennis Slattery (it is Vincent’s money Dennis steals to loan shark). Jack will pay his bill and enough will be left over for Gino’s racing obsession (his poetic discussion of horse racing in a quiet moment of the film is hysterical).
The fallout from this “loan” at incredibly high interest rates twists into plot convolutions which include fixed horse races, scary paybacks, an arranged marriage, chases, destroying incredible gambling odds, a few hired hits which turn disastrous, a few thefts, getaways and much more. Remember, this is New York City in the 1970s and not only can these folks not get out of anyone’s way (including their own), they have no way to know what the right way is. Only Vincent and Douglas who sit serenely in jail, eating the best and living “la bella vita” have the aplomb to play the system while the others run around stressed, ripped-up and anxious, an irony that is just too good to miss (spoiler alert).
79 Parts is entertaining and offbeat. Its strength is in its sardonic humor and convoluted plot. Some of the characterizations are stock/types. Their exaggeration is a humorous convention which succeeds in some segments of the film more than others. Wisely, Taub skirts the gratuitous violence that could have accompanied the characters who wave guns and shoot them from time to time. It is an altogether wacky, lighthearted fun film, with notable performances.