“Down the Shore” is the kind of low-budget indie film that really pisses me off. It has great actors that get your butt in the seat and the cinematography and production are top-notch. You can’t help but get roped into watching. But as the film plays on you realize it’s an empty vessel in terms of a message or theme and everything but the kitchen sink is thrown into it to try and make up for a flimsy story that basically makes no sense. Many of these types of films popped up on direct-to-video shelves in the 1990s as “indie chic” hit the scene, and it looks like they haven’t stopped since.
“Down the Shore” starts off in Paris where a wide-eyed Jersey Girl named Susan (Maria Dizzia) meets the world’s sexiest looking merry-go-round attendant, Jacques (Edoardo Costa). The two hit it off and romance blooms but soon tragedy strikes and, before we know it, Jacques is in Jersey to deliver Susan’s ashes to her brother Bailey (James Gandolfini), the world’s most frightening merry-go-round attendant. Yes, both men work at running merry-go-rounds. Soon Jacques has inserted himself into the lives of the dysfunctional family that runs the amusement park and also serve as Bailey’s surrogates. We meet creepy goomba Wiley (Joe Pope) who has a beautiful wife named Mary (Famke Janssen) who dotes on their mentally handicapped, hot-dog loving son Marty (
Joe Magar John Magaro). I hate making light of special needs people but roles like this one are damn near embarrassing as Joe Magar John Magaro, who plays Marty, seems to think mentally challenged means shrieky and annoying.
While the situation feels awkward (Wiley is Bailey’s boss but also, just like a brother. Also, Bailey is in love with Mary) away we go into a convoluted story about brotherhood, drug abuse, domestic violence and becoming a man. Or something. I don’t know. For every strange twist “Down the Shore Takes,” three more unanswered questions arise, making sitting through this film a true exercise in futility.
It’s a kind of a shame too because the film is spectacularly photographed. The rusted and wind torn Jurassic park of the Jersey Shore carnival sometimes feels like a dream or a relic. I was also drawn in by Gandolfini’s performance as a man so worn down by what life has dealt him, he’s simultaneously floundering and paralyzed.
But at the end of the day “Down the Shore” just doesn’t know what it’s aiming for and it never knows when to quit. Rather than focus on an interesting family dynamic and a struggle to break free from ties that bind, the film throws monkey wrench after monkey wrench into the plot. It would be exhausting if anyone cared enough by the end of the film. Films like this anger me because they cost a ton of money to get made and find their way through the festival circuit and into peoples’ homes based on false promises on the poster. Crafting an intense drama is no easy task but after seeing “Down by the Shore,” I long for a simple story, told well, with great acting.