Director Nancy Savoca’s Union Square finds Mira Sorvino back in top form as Lucy a turbulent, blithe spirit drifting in and out of the life of her straightlaced sister Jenny (Tammy Blanchard). A force of complicated energy with an unashamed foul-mouthed loudness, Lucy is the antithesis of her sister and it revealed early in the film that the two have been estranged for some time. Lucy wants to make her sister believe she has changed but the hesititation on Jenny’s face is apparent, she has been down this same road with Lucy before many times.
Yet the sisterly bond the two share obligates Jenny to go down the road again, a cycle that has made her weary despite Lucy’s needy reassurances that she’s different now. The actresses create a dramatic tension and electric familiarity that makes their relationship feel totally authentic (Producer Neda Armian knows her way around the sister trope having made Beloved and Rachel Gettng Married as well).
An incisive snapshot into the complex history shared by these sisters, Union Square has a dangerous, unpredictable energy propelled chiefly by Sorvino as the impulse-driven, addled Lucy. Without giving away a fundamental twist, I can safely say that when the third act closes, Sorvino is called upon to play almost a second character, one more buttoned-down and much more genteel in comportment, certainly not the blowsy cousin of Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? who announced her presence like a fog horn earlier in the film.
This twist presents a unique opportunity for the actress to play a complex lead character with an arc that demands for her to go to extreme, emotional places often within a scene. Invoking the refreshingly off-kilter feeling of John Cassavetes’ Minnie & Moskovitz, it might be logical then to compare Sorvino to one of Gena Rowlands’ great, boozy, neurotic dames, but for me she kept evoking the broken flower fragility and desperate sensuality of Marilyn Monroe in classics such as Bus Stop and The Misfits.
Sorvino once played Monroe, in 1996’s Norma Jean and Marilyn (for which she was nominated for the Emmy), and she no doubt mastered that patented little-girl-lost, faraway look that haunted Marilyn’s eyes, a technique that adds another layer of depth to her electric womanchild portrayal of Lucy’s addled mind. As the character deals with some very serious demons onscreen, Sorvino relishes in every gesture, every fluttery, drunken half-truth and breakdown. In this sense, it’s easy to also see perhaps a glimmer of Blanche Dubois’ doomed romance in Lucy, underneath her glittery eye shadow and mascara-streaked cheeks wet from crying herself to sleep again.