Anthony LaManna (Noah Forest) Michael LaManna (Chase Carucci) and Chase LaManna (Luca Lombardi) in Moving in 2008
Review by William J. Hammon, ActuallyPaid.com
Family is one of the most important things in life, whether it’s our own flesh and blood, or a group of our own choosing. The intimacy and dependability inherent in such a connection is at the core of some of the greatest stories ever told, and for some reason the Fast and Furious series. When the foundations of the family unit are tested, it crystallizes the bonds that keep us all going, and makes us believe in something better. But in the moment, it can also crush us and convince us that the world is caving in.
It’s this knowing, personal weight that pervades Calogero Carucci’s film, Moving in 2008, the closing night feature of this year’s Brooklyn Film Festival. Based on his own family drama during the 2008 recession, Carucci tells a very heavy story that is honest and relatable for anyone who’s ever experienced poverty. It’s also a wonderful showcase for young talent, as the main child cast has to shoulder a lot of stuff as actors that no child should have to endure.
Set on Long Island, the nuclear LaManna family is in the midst of the insecurity and hellish ordeal that affected a great deal of the working class during the Great Recession. Moving into their fourth house in less than a year, parents Anthony and Vanessa (Noah Forrest and Lisa Tirone King, respectively) do their best to provide for their family, each working a full time job (Anthony in construction, Vanessa as a nurse) while also maintaining a hair salon. Their three kids are getting ready to start in new schools, each dealing with their own childhood nerves, and the lightly-controlled chaos of their household should seem familiar to just about any viewer.
Most of the action is carried by middle child Chase, played by Luca Lombardi. On the cusp of puberty, he’s in the most confused state of the bunch, as he’s trying to do right by his parents, be a good role model for younger sister Sarah (Olivia Skye Wanamaker), and learn about his changing body from older brother Michael (Calogero’s brother Chase Carucci). This would be a complicated role for any young actor if we just left it at that. It’s impossible to not see yourself in some of his trials.
Because unfortunately, financial hardship is not the only challenge the family faces. Tragedy strikes early on, throwing the family into a spiral. Anthony and Vanessa succumb to the pressures of the situation and fight with each other until they’re blue in the face. Chase suffers humiliation due to circumstances well beyond his control. Setbacks pile on top of more setbacks, making you wonder how any family could survive.
Carucci tasks all three of the kids – again, including his own little brother – with coping with some pretty hard issues in this film, and amazingly, they all rise to the occasion. The kids here face hardships that no child should have to, but these three young actors deliver emotional honesty with every second of their screen time. This isn’t melodrama. This isn’t a Lifetime movie where you cry on cue. These kids are being asked to react to verbal abuse, to face down bullies, to show strength for the sake of their parents, and to go on living as normal a life as possible. And they do it. They do it just as many other kids would if it were happening to them. Children are adaptable, even when it seems impossible, and all three of these actors, particularly Lombardi and Wanamaker, show that adaptability as if it was second nature. Their performances are amazing.
A cynical view of the film would chalk a lot of this up to narrative contrivance, relying too heavily on Murphy’s Law to keep knocking the LaMannas down. But if you’ve ever felt the pangs of poverty, these scenes are all too real. I myself have felt all eyes in the room on me when my mom couldn’t afford to pay for a field trip. Others have condescended to me regarding what food stamps will and won’t pay for. My mother did everything in her power to try to shield my sister and I from the truth about how dire things got at times, just like Anthony and Vanessa. And when the stress got to be too much, she’d scream herself hoarse at my grandmother or anyone else who would listen, just like Anthony and Vanessa. And God help us if any of us got sick or had some sort of emergency expense when she was laid off. Crises never come one at a time. When it rains, it pours. For my family (just like the LaMannas) it poured HARD.
The film shows these moments in stark, gut-wrenching terms, because at times it feels like there’s no way out. In one of the more creative choices of the movie, Carucci peppers in societal reminders of how helpless it can all seem. The LaMannas’ church only offers “thoughts and prayers” while asking them to give money they don’t have. Chase’s new classroom has a big banner that reads, “You are responsible for your own actions,” a chilling reinforcement of victim shaming that was – and is – quite prevalent in political discourse, with the wealthy and powerful blaming the poor for their own poverty when they have no control. At several points, members of the family hear campaign speeches from then-candidate Barack Obama, his empathetic words sounding so wonderful, but serving as literal background noise to the reality of their world, where words are all they get, with no action to actually help them.
Anyone and everyone who’s ever been in similar shoes knows exactly how this feels, and it is devastating. I absolutely love Carucci’s blunt honesty with this material. But even better is how he does find the silver lining, again through action rather than words. Michael stands as a protector for his family despite everything. Sarah loves taking candid photos, and their reveal is pure catharsis. Chase finds the moments that still make life extraordinary, be it through study, his first love, or the woeful New York Jets. This is what makes this a great family drama, because it stresses in the most natural of terms how crucial the very concept of a family unit can be. It’s not just a word, it’s a feeling, a state of mind, and every LaManna finds that feeling in one way or another.
When things are at their bleakest, these are the moments we cling to in order to keep going, to survive, and Carucci freaking nails it every time. When all you’ve got is each other, you find a way to make it work. Carucci’s been there. I’ve been there. Too many of us have been there, and for a lot of them, they’ll be back there if they haven’t fallen back already. Carucci seems to have found his break in the clouds via the art of film, and if this is what he’s capable of in his feature debut, I can safely say his future will be bright indeed.