Trials come at Bernie in other forms, as his elderly mother Carla is terminally ill, and she is not going gentle into that good night. She’s salty and acerbic and begins to talk openly about regrets in her life, specifically about experiences she missed. Bernie is also on the cusp of a romance with a coworker, Theresa (Delissa Reynolds), who is a woman of color. She feels warm toward Bernie, Maddie, and Carla, but she also confronts him about his casual racism. Bernie begins to realize that the world and his place in it were likely never what he thought they were. We learn that there are even more secrets in this family that he is trying to hold together by force of will. The one constant in his life is his beloved city.
“…they find room in their hearts for changes they never expected.”
Pittsburgh, for those not familiar, is a self-contained bubble universe centered on the confluence of three rivers in Pennsylvania. Pittsburghese is the spoken dialect, and the contraction of “you’uns” (pronounced “yinz”) gives rise to the self-applied moniker “Yinzer” for the native denizens of the city. Worship of the Pittsburgh Steelers NFL team is de rigueur in the one-time unofficial capital of the rust belt. Silverman is a true blue Yinzer, born and raised. In his website bio, he says he “always carries Pittsburgh in his heart and black n’ gold in his veins.” He wanted to make Pittsburgh and its Yinzer culture a centerpiece of the film, and the result is a marvelous glimpse into the life of a city with no pretense and nothing fancy going on. Bernie and his Yinzer buds are coarse in their speech and their dated prejudices about people, but when confronted with the facts, they find room in their hearts for changes they never expected. This film deflects judgment and provides a quiet space to think.
Previously Silverman starred in the atmospheric 2019 Sci-Fi thriller After We Leave, with Two Lives in Pittsburgh being his directorial debut. This film is a beautiful tribute to his city that also sets the stage for a compassionate and intelligent discussion of gender identity, race, and orientation. He’s created extraordinary art from thin air here, with an almost non-existent budget. The power is in the performances, which are all strong. This simple fable about a kid finding herself shows how being open to transformation with compassion instead of fear can spark self-examination and changes in others that roll like a wave. And they can still all be Steelers fans.
Two Lives in Pittsburgh screened at the 2023 Cinequest Film Festival.
"…compassionate and intelligent discussion of gender identity, race, and orientation..."