Movie Magazine International

Summer of Sam

USA - 1999

Movie Review By Heather Clisby

In 1977, Shelton Jackson Lee was 20 years old, not yet the famous director he is today. From what was obviously a very memorable period for Spike Lee, "Summer of Sam" is a snapshot of time and place, a collage of sights, smells and sounds. New York City was experiencing an intense heat wave, the New York Yankees won the World Series, a blackout resulted in massive looting, Studio 54 was in full rave, Punk Rock was flourishing and the first killer to officially earn the 'serial' title, David Berkowitz - the infamous "Son of Sam" - was terrorizing a Brooklyn neighborhood by killing young woman and couples at random.

Against this backdrop, we meet Vinny and Dionna, a young couple who love disco and each other but face deep-rooted troubles in their marriage. Played by the one-man stash of talent, John Leguizamo, Vinny suffers from a serious Madonna/whore vision, compliments of the Catholic church, and can only find the naughty sex he needs in the arms of other women.

In one of her deepest roles yet, Mira Sorvino is Dionna, a good girl who just wants to please her men - both her father and her husband - and nearly loses herself in doing so. In one scene, she reluctantly asks the advice of Vinny's slutty ex, Ruby, played by Jennifer Esposito. Ruby is dumbfounded, "You're asking me how to have sex with your husband?! Well, first off, you have to NOT be his wife."

Adrien Brody is superb as Ritchie, Vinny's best friend and Ruby's lover. In his lost meandering from his Bronx roots, he's found punk music and all the accessories, British accent included. The new spiked-hair-and-dog-collar look doesn't sit well with the macho Italian wiseguys in the neighborhood thus making Ritchie an easy target of paranoia and violent ignorance.

In recommending this movie, I cannot simply say, "you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll hide your eyes." This is an actual slice of history infused and illustrated with fictional characters, not unlike our friend Jim Cameron did with that ship story. Of course, Spike being Spike, did not go the way of Celine Dion soundtracks but of camera tricks and drug-altered states (although the cinematography was striking the 2- hour film could've used some editing.)

I loved this film because it was sometimes difficult to take; I felt unsettled for at least a day and a half. Get it? I FELT. After enduring crap like "Big Daddy" I desperately needed a dose of real filmmaking from someone who remembers that this is what it's supposed to be about. What's so ironic here is that despite the title, this is not a film about murder, this is a film about life.

© 1999 - Heather Clisby - Air Date: 7/7/99

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