Three lives intersect over the course of a fall day in Long Island in Eric Mendelsohn's dazzling and delicate independent drama 3 Backyards. Just his second feature and long-awaited follow-up to his acclaimed 1999 drama Judy Berlin, Mendelsohn remains a keen observer of everyday life and a filmmaker willing to embrace experimental methods. 3 Backyards, which premiered in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, opens at the IFC Center in New York Friday for the start of a modest platform release. Critical praise and appearances by Mendelsohn and star Edie Falco in support of 3 Backyards will help boost opening weekend attendance, but limited bookings will keep the overall earnings modest. Still, 3 Backyards will bring some much-needed acclaim to Screen Media, an independent distributor best known for genre fare. Expect 3 Backyards to land on numerous critics' top ten lists and finally find its audiences on home video.
A businessman (Elias Koteas) puts off a work trip to wander around his hometown and think about his dissolving marriage. A housewife (Edie Falco) gives her famous neighbor (Embeth Davidtz) a ride to the local ferry, but the errand turns out differently than planned. An 8-year-old girl (Rachel Resheff) heads to school after stealing some of her mother's jewelry, and her day takes an unexpected turn.
Edie Falco, also a Long Island native, may continue to be best known as Tony Soprano's wife Carmela on the hit HBO drama The Sopranos but she's at her best with Mendelsohn. After playing a naïve actress in his debut film Judy Berlin, Falco reunites with Mendelsohn to play a somewhat celebrity-obsessed housewife. Falco is the fragile soul at the center of 3 Backyards and she makes the character equally familiar and unforgettable.
Embeth Davidtz and Elias Koteas provide strong support but the best scenes belong to newcomers Rachel Resheef as the young girl, and Danai Gurira (The Visitor) as a young immigrant in search of a job at a local diner.
Mendelsohn, who worked on costumes for numerous Woody Allen films (including Crimes and Misdemeanors and Everyone Says I Love You) is a son of Long Island and all three of his films, including his 1992 short Through an Open Window, take place in the suburban communities from his childhood.
Cinematographer Kasper Andersen makes great use of the zoom lens to add to the film's sense of intimacy. The autumn sunlight provides brief, bright flashes that accent the deliberately paced drama and the town of Northport Long Island, just about 15 miles away from Mendelsohn's childhood hometown of Old Bethpage, becomes a magical place thanks to Andersen's camerawork.
Mendelsohn is also an associate professor in the film department at Columbia University and the school deserves a special mention in the movie since two dozen of his students worked on the shoot.
It's worth remembering that eleven years passed between Judy Berlin and 3 Backyards, both of which earned Mendelsohn best director prizes at Sundance.
Hopefully, perhaps with the help of his Columbia students, audiences won't have to wait long for his next film.
Distributor: Screen Media Films
Cast: Embeth Davidtz, Edie Falco, Elias Koteas, Rachel Resheff, Kathryn Erbe and Danai Gurira
Director/Scriptwriter: Eric Mendelsohn
Producers: Rocco Caruso and Amy Durning
Rating: R for a scene of sexual content.
Running Time: 85 min
Release Date: March 11 ltd.