By Valerie Milano
Keidrich Sellati and Maxwell Apple in "Rockaway."
Rockaway, John J. Budion's directorial debut is set in East Rockway, NY with two brothers and four friends, fleshing out his life based coming-of-age story, which gives fans of
Stand By Me a lesser ride down the emotional journey that the latter film continues to inflict. The tone is set with the adult John's (voice-over by Frankie J. Alvarez) telling the story of what happened one summer in 1994 with his younger self, John (Maxwell Apple) and his older brother, Anthony (Keidrich Selllati) - against the backdrop of the Knicks Playoff and O.J. Simpson white Bronco chase - when they decided they had one shot to change their lives in an abusive household under his alcoholic father and passive mother.
Budion has been a successful visual effects artist for over 17 years in film and television having worked with an array of filmmakers from John Sayles to Wes Anderson to Ben Stiller. Rockaway has won over seven festival awards and will probably garner more as word spreads and the audience builds.
Although, the film is inspired by true events the ending is not a true account. Budion succeeds in showcasing his actors for the most part, the boys are all adequately fleshed out but the parents are not atypical - perhaps to target the audience. The brothers are the usual duo closely bonded by blood and secrets who tag-team in with four other local lads who then teach them about the love and brotherhood that is achieved with laughs and tears through the sweat of sports and boyhood mayhem.
We're shown the life of the two boys as they hang out with their new friends but always return to the dark, abusive home they left and begin to plot the demise of their father. Their mother, (Marjan Neshat) has told her sons that she will leave with them in a week and things will be different. They have lived in a state of constant fear of either seeing their mother being beaten or their father, (Wass Stevens) brutalizing them. The boys decide to move with their own plan or vengeance that they intend to put into motion.
A simple story in a not so simple time - you'll be hard-pressed to see 1994 as the year this film was made other than the few references. If you've seen Stand By Me you'll be stuck with comparisons throughout and if you haven't? The story is sporadic on the emotional Richter scale - leaving viewers with a competent, sentimental tale that has been done... a lot. Budion seems to be aware of his direction and even with all the inside jokes - doesn't quite make the film his own enough to let us see what his own style is.
As a survivor's tale - there will be some who relate and others who argue it's not enough, especially during the 90's - but John J. Budion is a new pitcher on the mound and hopefully his next outing will throw us some curves.
Rockaway opened January 11th in limited theatres and can be streamed on