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Indie Snapshot: Down the Shore

by Ethan Alter April 5, 2013 2:50 pm
Indie Snapshot: <i>Down the Shore</i>

The Sopranos may be long over, but James Gandolfini just can't seem to get the heck out of New Jersey. Last year, he played the out-of-touch father of a wannabe Jersey rocker in David Chase's criminally underseen Not Fade Away, which arrives on DVD later this month, meaning you have no excuse for skipping it a second time. Now he's back in a Garden State state of mind in Down the Shore, an indie drama originally filmed in 2011 right on the Jersey shore made notorious by the eponymous MTV reality show -- an area that's now struggling to recover from the devastation wrecked by Hurricane Sandy.

Trading his gangster swagger for the slow, shuffling gait of a working class stiff, Gandolfini assumes the identity of Bailey, a Jersey shore lifer who operates the rides at one of the low-fi amusement parks that dot the boardwalk. Bailey still lives in the house he grew up in, across the way from the girl he used to pine for, Mary (Famke Janssen), and the best friend who eventually married her, Wiley (Joe Pope). His sister, Susan (Maria Dizzia) used to live in the neighborhood as well, but she decamped on a lengthy European adventure, from which she returns in an urn carried by her French husband, Jacques (Edorado Costa), who also shows up carrying a will that gives him ownership of half of her and Bailey's home. No foul play involved here -- Susan was a victim of cancer and her passing plunges Bailey's already-low levels of self-esteem even further down. As he spirals out of control, old feelings resurface between him and Mary, leading to tension between her and the increasingly violent Wiley and... yada yada yada.

Written by TV movie scribe Sandra Jennings and directed by actor/acting coach-turned-filmmaker Harold Guskin (who was apparently Jet Li's go-to coach during his mid-aughties Hollywood run, working on everything from Romeo Must Die to Cradle 2 the Grave), Shore is a small-scale, working-class character study that's never quite as nuanced and dramatic as it aspires to be. It doesn't even really function as much of an actors' showcase, since Gandolfini has been significantly better elsewhere, including the aforementioned Not Fade Away as well as Andrew Dominik's enjoyable slice of pulp fiction Killing Them Softly, which finally gave him the chance to pay a visit to another city, New Orleans. Shore's attempts to simulate the rough-edged Jersey existence are admirable, but unconvincing -- it feels more like a tourist snapshot of the place than a vibrant, lived-in portrait. The characters are also too thinly sketched and a handful of late-inning soap opera-esque revelations don't provide them with any added dimension. Based on Shore, it's time for Gandolfini to put New Jersey in his rearview and explore new horizons.

Get showtimes and tickets for this movie from Fandango.

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