Typical misery-laden Sundance fare all the way, Alfredo De Villa's Adrift in Manhattan offers three semi-connected stories of angst, loss, loneliness and general unhappiness. Have a ball. Story #1 -- Heather Graham (Boogie Nights) plays miserable optometrist Rose Phipps, a heartsick woman who is suffering over the loss of her young son while dismissing the offers of reconciliation that her recently estranged husband (William Baldwin, Backdraft) keeps tossing out there. Story #2 -- Victor Rasuk (Raising Victor Vargas) plays a semi-creepy young photography enthusiast who has a subtly unsettling relationship with his mother and a potentially unhealthy obsession with the aforementioned (miserable) optometrist/hottie. Story #3 -- Dominic Chianese (The Sopranos) plays an old painter who is gradually going blind, but slowly kick-starts a tentative romance with a co-worker played by (an excellent) Elizabeth Pena (Jacob's Ladder) -- but will the younger woman (gasp) accept a man who is losing his eyesight??
Do any of these mini-movies sound particularly enthralling to you? How about all three in one 89-minute block? Well, this kind of flick is the absolute bread and butter of the Sundance Film Festival, which makes for a pretty depressing afternoon or two, trust me. While not exactly what you'd call a bad movie, Adrift in Manhattan is simply too predictable, familiar and obvious to warrant much in the way of attention or enthusiasm. (Throw a rock into any year's Sundance guide and you're guaranteed to hit at least two or three multi-pronged grave and oh-so-earnest weep-dramas like Adrift in Manhattan) A well-polished indie-style soap opera, the movie is packed with quivering lips, angry tirades and cathartic sex ... but none of it really adds up to a whole heck of a lot. Director Alfredo De Villa (who traveled somewhat similar territory in his Washington Heights) has a knowing touch for emotion and nuance, but ladles the angst so liberally that the movie begins to feel a little bit like a Lifetime Channel flick.
Unable to coax a convincing performance from the lovely Heather Graham, he seems more comfortable focusing on plot threads two and three, but the connective tissue between the stories is tenuous at best, confused in doses and uninteresting in general. It's full-bore melodrama all the way, with very little in the way of unexpected developments or unique perspectives. Each characters gets a crucial (yet pedantic) life lesson (or three) as they muddle through their respective miseries before the flick trudges to its inevitable series of conclusions, some bittersweet, some hopeful, all pretty generic. Despite the omnipresent tragedies and emotional speed bumps the screenplay doles out, not much in the way of sincere emotion manages to seep through the screen.
To his credit, De Villa does bring a workmanlike visual sensibility to the proceedings, presenting a New York City that's as casually cold as it is undeniably vibrant. If only the screenplay possessed a little more of that energy. It's an admirable experiment to be sure, but De Villa's raw visual style is at constant odds with Adrift in Manhattan's undercooked and over-familiar recipe. If you're the sort who enjoys movies because of their familiar trappings (and there's certainly nothing wrong with that), you'll probably appreciate the whole of the flick a lot more than I did.