"Two Family House" is a rare delight, with as much complexity as charm and more brains than heart. 

Upstairs, Downstairs

Heads up, movie buffs. If you don't act quickly, you'll miss out on the real thing — a feel-good movie that's worth feeling good about. Unlike "Pay It Forward," with its Oscar-studded cast, writer-director Raymond De Felitta's "Two Family House" won't be hanging around long. Not because it isn't a terrific little movie. Not because it isn't filled with assured performances. Not because its screenplay isn't a briskly written, unsentimental love story. No, "Two Family House" won't be playing long simply because it isn't a big studio release. So that means if you want to see this audience pleaser — which is the award it snagged at this year's Sundance Film Fest — you'd best rearrange your schedule. Set in the 1950s on Staten Island, the story centers on Buddy Visalo ("The Sopranos'" Michael Rispoli), a factory worker who always wanted to be a singer. In fact, he was once offered an audition that might have led to greatness, but his pessimistic wife, Estelle (Kathrine Narducci, also from "The Sopranos"), and her family talked him out of it. Gifted with a beautiful singing voice and a determination to rise above normalcy, Buddy devises a series of harebrained schemes to make money. To Estelle's secret delight, they all fail miserably, sending Buddy to another factory job until another idea comes along. "Two Family House" starts out playing like a prolonged episode of "The Honeymooners." But just when you're wondering where De Felitta is heading, the writer-director slowly begins to unveil his plans. The film turns a corner when Buddy decides to buy a run-down, two-story house in an Irish neighborhood, with the idea of converting the downstairs into a bar. A bar where he can sing and entertain his customers. Although Estelle naturally hates the idea, Buddy's real problem is Mary (Kelly Macdonald from "Trainspotting"), the current tenant of the upstairs apartment. Not only is this Irish immigrant beautiful and pregnant, she's also married to a drunken lout (Kevin Conway). Pressured by his friends and family, Buddy decides to evict them and enlists a gang of his fellow Italian Americans to forcibly remove the couple, sending Mary into labor. The birth is successful, but the baby looks surprisingly dark-skinned, and its drunken Da immediately abandons mother and newborn. Buddy can't stop feeling guilty about the role he played in Mary's misery, so he secretly finds and pays for a new apartment for her. He, of course, has no idea why he's doing this, but we in the audience do: Both he and Mary are outcasts. While Mary's sins might be more obvious; Buddy's dreams set him dangerously apart from the rest of his neighbors. As Mary and Buddy's understanding of each other grows, "Two Family House" evolves into a film about being comfortable and knowing who you are and then being forced to let it all go to do the right thing. Rispoli and Macdonald develop a tremendous chemistry together. Macdonald lights up the screen giving us a Mary who's fiery and fiercely independent. Rispoli's Buddy strikes the right balance between being a regular "Joe" and a man with conflicting passions percolating beneath the surface. De Felitta says he based this subtle delight on his real-life Uncle Buddy, which makes it an even more extraordinary tale. It also explains the movie's warm, intimate tone and the terrific performances. Having lived it, De Felitta seems determined to make sure all the details of his memories right. My only complaint about "Two Family House" is the near-constant voice of the narrator, who has an irritating knack for restating the obvious. Luckily, "Two Family House" has more than enough charm to overcome the wasted narration.

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