Some films become endearing not so much for the themes they examine but because there is a level of familiarity contained within them. They may invoke memories of the old neighborhood where you lived as a child and therefore be surrounded by a certain halo effect. For me one such film recently came along; ‘Dough Boys’ by film maker Louis Lombardi’. It takes place in a little neighborhood in the Bronx. Although I grew up in Brooklyn I knew most of the characters in this drama. They were the shop owners and neighbors walking their dogs or going shopping. I played with their kids and we were always in each other’s home. I might be Scotts Irish by I have spent a lot of my youth in Italian homes; many were like second families to me. It is impossible to look at a film like this without being transported back to those much simpler days. This is the greatest strength of this movie and I am sure it will have a similar effect on many out there. While it will help if you grew up in an ethnic neighborhood especially in New York City it is not mandatory to enjoy this movie. This is a human story that anybody can relate to. It is something that most of the family can watch and enjoy together although some themes here may require some discretion on the part of the parents. It is also the essence of independent films. No major studio would give the go ahead for a little gem like this. It just couldn’t compete with the major block busters that are always around. Reportedly made for a budget of about $200,000 the cast and crew did an amazing job with such a limited amount of resources. This has a feeling of a neighborhood project where friends and family get together and do something to help out. The film had a limited release earlier this year but for most of us the first chance to see this is the DVD release through MTI. They are getting quite a reputation as the best place to go for quirky little niche films. This one is a prime example of something that deservers as broad an audience as possible.
The screenplay comes from Evan Jacobs and Louis Lombardi. Jacobs has one other script to his name, a thriller called ‘Black Friday’. Lombardi is someone you will most likely recognize immediately. As an actor he was a regular on two of the biggest hit shows on TV; ‘24’ and ‘The Sopranos’. This is his second time as a writer and director. For men who are relatively new to screenplays they do a great job here. The fundamental plot is one that we have seen many, many times in the past. A man with a gambling problem is about to lose the family business unless something saves him. The difficulty in a story like this is the main character has to come across as a victim even though it is his own compulsive behavior that gets the protagonist into trouble. This is usually offset as it is here by having gangsters of some sort calling in the marker and threatening to take over the business. The gambler may be to blame but the audience can concentrate on the greater evil, the gangsters. With this said the film should have been just another in a long line of dramas that used this plot device. Thankfully Jacobs and Lombardi manage to infuse the story with enough heart to get the story up and running and most importantly keep the audience interested. In short it has heart and neighborhood charm and that goes a very long way. The overall story has more depth than I initially thought it would have. The interpersonal relationships are finely painted allowing for enough character development to keep things interesting. The best is the relationship between the two brothers, Lou (Louis Lombardi) and Frank (Gaetano Iacono). What makes this work is that most of us know this pair. They play brothers with a realism that leaps off the screen. Lou is the rouge brother who has put the family business in jeopardy with his gambling. Frank has spent his live taking care of that business like their father did before them. It is more than a business it is a part of who they are and for Lou to lose it to gangsters who only want to bleed it dry for a quick profit is something Frank cannot conceive. This elevates the story to one of redemption, forgiveness and reconnection. It is a feeling that held those old neighborhoods together; family comes first, no question.
As a director Lombardi is still on the learning curve but he makes an impressive effort here. His style is an easy going one. It is unlike the pack of film school graduates that feel obligated to use every trick they learned about in one film. Lombardi has been around as an actor long enough to have seen many excellent directors. I’ll take leaning by observing like this over a classroom any day. It appears here that he saw some techniques that worked and built on that to form his own directorial style. This is also a man who grew up in these neighborhoods. This film is a love letter to them. It is not a story that would translate to another setting and Lombardi is wise to be aware of this fact. This is reinforced by his inclusion of Vincent Pastore in the cast. According to an interview I read Lombardi has known Pastore for over thirty years. They came up in the same neighborhood. This is the secret here; it is a story about a neighborhood from the vantage point of someone who grew up there.
The film opens with the voice of the father of the men. Frank was always the responsible one who wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer but took over the family business instead. Lou was never one for school and looked for the easy score which lead to his gambling. Lou was always in trouble ad Frank was always there to bail him out. The one thing he was good at was the bakery. It gets into the dilemma quickly enough after giving just the right amount of exposition to get things on track. The gangsters are shown as heartless men without any concern for the lives they are ruining. This allows the audience to feel a bit more for misguided Lou. The film was shot on location in the Bronx. A tale like this could not be recreated in a studio set and besides that would be out of range for the limited budget. The cast is incredibly talented and it shows that his was a labor of love for everyone involved. As professional as they are they gave a little more of themselves here and that translates to the screen.
This is the kind of film that you never hear about. It does not have a big marketing budget but it is so worth while you shouldn’t miss it. MTI is fantastic for allowing film lovers the opportunity to enjoy something of this quality.