Cinema Signal:

Happy Hours:
Alcohol in a Woman's Life

. "Happy Hour"

There are drinkers, they tell me, that live for it. In the case of Tulley (Anthony LaPaglia), a failed novelist, his day job as a copy editor is less than an outstanding activity, while his truly fulfilling time is when he consumes quantities of alcohol that are enough to pickle a few vital organs. It's people like him, who can "handle it" better than most, who have no idea what they're doing to themselves until they hear the prognosis.

Getting to that point, such people will tell you, can have its upside. Tulley has people in his life that love and respect him, most assuredly with devoted pal Levine (Eric Stoltz) who, in his idolization, is also a prime enabler. It seems like Tulley's only detractor is the asshole in the office who wants his job. It ain't happening because even his boss who knows all Tulley's foibles from years of experience with him, likes him.

So, there must be something attractive about the guy. One of those things would be his hard-boiled, unpretentious personality. Gives a guy appeal. And it works nicely one evening at happy hour at his hangout bar when he becomes aware that an attractive lady, Natalie (Caroleen Feeney) is sitting next to him and matching him drink for drink.

He finds out she's a schoolteacher, that she lives three blocks from him, and can clean the pool table in 8-ball. Feeling no pain, it's the beginning of a relationship that will make her a lover and a caregiver as Tulley's condition is discovered and treated.

LaPaglia's performance as an alcoholic who never gets a hangover and has no misgivings about his addiction is convincing. Even more so is the regard everyone has for him. He's lovable and magnetic. The charisma is real. You like being in his company because he's not an ugly, aggressive drunk. The cliche of the loud and boisterous loser isn't invited to the party, so doesn't spoil it. The part doesn't rise to LaPaglia's complex cop in "Lantana" but it's a worthy addition to a serious actor's portfolio just the same. The opportunities are where you find them.

But the ingredient that intoxicated me in this mix was Feeney. In her discovery of a vital emotional connection and her steadfast devotion to the man behind the booze, we're allowed to suffer with her as the disease of sclerosis asserts its deteriorating power. Feeney's natural talent seems so full of interior feelings that she needs few words to express them. The intensity of the subtext is all on her lovely face.

LaPaglia is the central figure around which everything else revolves. Feeney is the emotional core that burns inside. With taste and class, she gives the 90 minute film its meaningful and moving context.

A small film, a tiny cast, a labor of love with a minuscule budget that shows in the poor lighting and even worse sound quality. But the fact that it was made is the thing to be applauded. Take it with a twist.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Anthony LaPaglia, Caroleen Feeney and Eric Stolz
A drinking threesome

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