Sunday, February 15, 2009

M.I.A. on Region 1 DVD Tribute Month (Film 15) Sweet Nothing (1996)

Inspired by some anonymous diaries screenwriter Lee Drysdale found in an abandoned New York City loft in the early nineties, Gary Winick’s unsettling drama Sweet Nothing (1996) is a film that received much acclaim upon its release but has since all but disappeared from view. Fuelled by powerhouse performances by Michael Imperioli, Mira Sorvino and Paul Calderon, Sweet Nothing is a refreshingly subtle and low-key entry into the ‘drug film’ genre, and has been deserving of a much larger audience since it appeared and disappeared from screens in the fall of 1996.
Sweet Nothing seemed doomed from the beginning distribution wise. Filmed in 1993 on location in New York City, the film sat on the shelf for three years before Warner Brothers picked it up and then all but dropped it, despite the critical acclaim it received from not a small number of America’s major critics.
Telling the tale of a young businessman named Angel who begins selling crack to support his wife Monika and their children, and then finally dissolving into a sad world of an out of control addiction, Sweet Nothing is about as far removed from the over the top drug films Hollywood typically produces. It is indeed the near frightening normalcy that Drysdale and Winick manage to communicate that makes Sweet Nothing such an effective film. Angel’s addiction isn’t glamorized or overly demonized, it is just presented and, with this idea, Sweet Nothing has a much deeper resonance than any similar film from the nineties.
Sweet Nothing's closest relative is Harold Becker’s masterful 1988 production The Boost, a film which featured the searing combination of James Woods and Sean Young. While Sweet Nothing isn’t quite the near masterpiece Becker’s film is, it is just as haunting and most of this is due to Imperioli and Sorvino, two of the finest if often overlooked American actors who came out of the nineties.
Before he became known for The Sopranos, Michael Imperioli had already carved out an intriguing and uncompromising career as an actor and screenwriter (his co-writing duty on Spike Lee’s stunning Summer of Sam is a particular favorite) and in Angel, the young actor finds one of his most perfect roles. One particular moment late in the film where Angel explains his first taste of addiction as a child is probably the most chilling and effective acting the talented Imperioli has ever delivered.

While it might sound strange to say, the Oscar sitting on Mira Sorvino’s shelf is perhaps the worst thing that could have happened to her career. A really fine and distinctive actress who excels in both drama and comedy, Sorvino has never been able to escape the scrutiny her Oscar win for Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite in 1995 brought to her. Much like Marisa Tomei, another best supporting actress always looked upon as having something to prove, Mira Sorvino would have probably been better off receiving an Oscar later in her life. Despite the fact that her career so far has been looked upon as a disappointment by some, Sorvino has done some stunning work and Sweet Nothing contains some of her best and most heartbreaking moments.
Sweet Nothing isn’t perfect. One of Winick’s earliest films, he later directed the terrific Jennifer Garner vehicle 13 Going on 30 (2004), Sweet Nothing suffers from some seemingly unsure direction and it never finds a completely consistent tone. Winick also makes the mistake of relying way too heavily on Imperioli’s voice-overs instead of just letting his images speak for themselves. Still, despite some flaws, Sweet Nothing is for the most part an extraordinary and moving little film and its absence on DVD is irritating.
The film was available on VHS and Laserdisc in the late nineties for a while and those copies can still be found fairly cheaply. To my knowledge though it has never had a DVD release anywhere. Much like the final images of Angel in the film, Sweet Nothing has sadly all but disappeared from view.

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