One of Hill Country Film Festival’s greatest success stories makes its theatrical debut this weekend.
Last Night in Rozzie, directed by Sean Gannet from a screenplay by Ryan McDonough, won both the Cinema Dulce (Best of Fest) and Best Feature Film award at the 12th annual festival this summer and will open in limited release on the big screen as well as premium video on demand this Friday.
The film originally screened for its world premiere as a short film in 2017 before filmmakers secured the financing to expand their 14-minute piece into a full length feature. Both versions of Rozzie have the same basic outline, although the 80-minute version changes some significant plot choices and recasts the lead actors.
Last Night in Rozzie follows Ronnie, a New York City corporate lawyer pushed back to his roots in the small Boston suburb of Roslindale to reunite his dying friend Joey with his young son and confront the demons 25 years in his past. What complicates things is Joey’s request that Ronnie facilitate the visit without letting his ex-wife – and Ronnie’s childhood crush – Pattie know.
This conceit drives the central narrative and complicates a relatively straightforward story. While it works well to enhance the relationship between Ronnie and Joey, things become a bit wobblier between Ronnie and Pattie as there’s an uncomfortable tension to the core of their interactions placed by the narrative that the film can’t seem to get away from.
Neil Brown Jr. makes the transition from television to movie lead with his first major feature role after several successful seasons on CBS’s Seal Team.
As Ronnie, Brown Jr. is very approachable and engaging to follow for audiences as viewers bounce around Roslindale almost never leaving his side. Often he portrays Ronnie as being wound so tightly that he’s on the verge of breaking, which works in the larger melodrama but also makes Ronnie very inaccessible and distant in relationships.
Without question, the highlight of the entire film is Jeremy Sisto’s magnetic performance as Joey. The energy in scenes doubles any time Sisto is on screen regardless of Joey’s physical state and he constantly draws viewers back into the heart of the film whenever they may begin to disengage from events outside the hospital.
The veteran character actor best known for a four season run on hit NBC crime drama Law and Order commands a range of emotions from humor to anger to deep seeded sadness that moves fluidly throughout. Sisto is brilliant at making the most of a role that keeps him largely confined to a hospital bed and yet it’s as if Sisto’s looming presence dances around scenes he’s not in, elevating occasionally marginal melodrama.
Nicky Whelan is solid in an underdeveloped role as Pattie, a fiercely independent mother who wants nothing more than to shield her son from things of the past. On her own, it’s a strong performance but a constant standoffishness between Ronnie and Pattie makes her work feel relatively disjointed from the rest of the film.
Part of the narrative hook of Rozzie relies on a series of flashbacks to slowly reveal information to the audience about both Ronnie and Joey’s close, yet fractured relationship as well as why Ronnie left town and spirals downward upon his return.
Gannet measures his usage of these scenes, which sharply cut into the flow of the film in order to push the audience emotionally and the effect works moderately well especially at the pivotal moments, though the return to the current timeline can be a bit off-kilter at times.
Visually, Rozzie is exceptionally sharp for an independent film and puts too lush a shine on the more somber story. This decision by Gannet and director of photography Matt Suter doesn’t really make sense until the final moments of the film, where a haze is laid over the screen to bring audiences deeper into Ronnie’s devolving state of mind and helps solidify the film’s ending.
Last Night In Rozzie may not have the star power of large scale adult melodramas, but its independent spirit, universal story and Sisto’s remarkable performance might be the right find for local cinephiles who missed out on its summer screening in Fredericksburg wanting to check it out at home.
Note: Matt Ward is a programmer for the Hill Country Film Festival.