Union Square is a story about family as embodied in the drastically different – at least on the surface – lives of two sisters, Lucy and Jenny. The writers were given the challenge of creating a story that was very contained as to the number of characters and locations and yet as broad and accessible as possible. The production challenges defined the size of the canvas but as co-writer Mary Tobler indicated, “… I quickly realized that the more pressing — and more interesting — challenge was continually resisting conventional “shoulds” about storytelling in order to follow our instincts about creating a truly resonant story featuring characters who felt intimately familiar.”
And so the bar was set - the idea of two characters in a room, but with the depth and breadth of the universal age-old question of what to do with those embarrassing family members. How to shield ourselves from the torment of our crazy upbringing while remembering that all of that history lives within us every day? In short, facing the fact that family is family and will always be part of who we are. “No matter what we have to deal with when it comes to our family, love and acceptance must win out,” as Michael Rispoli (Nick) says.
The writers seized the opportunity and relied on old-fashioned story telling traditions – ones where the “edge of your seat, what happens next” plot twists are borne not of action sequences but rather from the depth and soul of the characters. What emerged was a story of family that took every chance it could to drill down into the two lives laid bare on screen. The story leaves one with a strong sense of what can happen in life and how we cope. As co-star Tammy Blanchard describes it, the movie shows how, “Anything can happen, and you can never get back all the time you missed with those you love. It's a tender caution about family.”
The story’s emotional rhythm was an essential element of the story telling. The juxtaposition of humor and raw emotion is a cornerstone of all of Savoca’s films but in this one it is front and center. Union Square became, in Mira Sorvino’s words, “the rarest of beasts that makes you laugh your head off but also moves you to the core.” Lucy bursts on to the scene, engaging in a full- fledged public breakup on her cell phone and then hurling herself at her unprepared sister Jenny with the most feared line a visiting family member can deliver, “I would love to stay here for a few days…”
The energy and enthusiasm Lucy brings to her character and to the story presented another type of challenge for actor and director. “Lucy literally goes from laughing to crying, back and forth, at least five times within the first hour,” says Sorvino. “My character's mood swings were extreme, and I was afraid I might lose the audience with the histrionics, but Nancy knew just how far to go before changing it back to comedy.” That comedy is the relief valve, the circuit breaker for a family gone haywire.
It’s a testament to the skill of Sorvino and Savoca that the Lucy character emerges from her self-constructed mayhem to genuinely reconnect with her sister. Sorvino describes Lucy as, “Irreverent and border-line crazy (she is bi-polar), but sometimes crazy like a fox: she sees the truth behind the front her sister has put up to try and put her dysfunctional family history behind her.” About the Lucy character, editor Jenny Lee offered, “Basically she’s the definition of ‘hot mess’. You look at the way Lucy presents herself and she’s just this force of nature: big style, big emotions.” At the same time Lee notes, “There are all these wonderful moments of wisdom and vulnerability Mira brought to her portrayal. Nancy would call them “Lucy’s lucid moments.” These lucid moments are what ultimately connect Lucy to her sister. As Sorvino puts it, “She is by turns full of need, like a little child, and a great advice giver, like a big sister should be.”
Playing that “little sister” Jenny, Tammy Blanchard undergoes a true transformation as her character moves from a carefully crafted narrative to the truth about who she really is. Jenny has spent several years distancing herself from her family and inventing a new one for her fiancé. She’s lost her neighborhood accent and her street attitude but, alas, finds it all surging back when big sister Lucy drops in out of the blue. Blanchard connected with the film on a very personal level. “Coming from a big family, I have seen a lot of time gone by wasted by anger and pain. I thought that if I could be a part of something like this, maybe I could help others choose to talk instead of walk.”