The farther into the future people go, we’ll always look back upon the past in a myriad of ways. Sometimes it is with reverence, other times we are glad to be so far removed from it. With Allswell, writer/director Ben Snyder and writer Elizabeth Rodriguez attempt to come to grips with this balancing act of contemplating a life lived. With the film opening on a time long gone, we see glimpses of old Polaroids set to classic music found in the likes of Studio 54 and other such famous NYC nightclubs. Those long nights of dancing may have passed for the three sisters we see in the film, but the energy they had then most certainly still remains. Unfortunately, it has to be channeled into the constant troubles life has thrown their way. Going against the grain of usual cinematic trends, these three women don’t have perfect lives, with one issue being the basic premise of the film. Instead, Allswell paints a vivid portrait of lives that are full of constant upheaval and turmoil, yet often attempts to remind us of the beauty that also lies within the world, and more specifically, those around us.
Crafted in what Snyder referred to as a “colabauteur” model of filmmaking, he described how the creative process was broken up among the three main actresses and himself as much as possible. “It was our hope to craft a story inspired by the many chapters of these women’s past, but very much set it in the present”. With story credits from Rodriguez, Liza Colon-Zayas, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Snyder, Allswell is all about the olive branch being extended in hopes of healing. A pitch-perfect Rodriguez plays Daisy, a restaurant owner who is living with the young mother of her soon-to-be adopted child. Ida, played by a deeply powerful Colon-Zayas, is a clinic counselor who aims to help as many people as physically possible. Extending far beyond her patients, her co-worker and estranged brother go through devastating events that push Ida to the edge of exhaustion. And Ida and Daisy’s sister-in-law, the stunning Rubin-Vega, grapples with the thought of losing the bond her and her daughter once shared. As the three sisters come to terms with the problems they’ve encountered in their own lives, seeing how they come together for one another inspires hope. The three are pushed to wits end, making for a compelling drama set in a city that feels built to swallow people whole if they become too caught up in the mess of life.
Yet, while Allswell is a heavy film, it’s not exclusively gloom for these sisters. While New York can certainly be a machine that churns through the residents that live here, it’s still the greatest place on Earth (a bit biased on my part but I will forever stand by it). And the three women of this film very much do not let this city get the best of them, even at their lowest. The added bonus of it being told in the most New York way imaginable is a true pleasure. Allswell is able to capture a very particular essence of living in New York City. As trains roar overhead, your outpouring of emotions becomes drowned out. Favorite comfort meals are mere moments or blocks away. An eclectic array of inherently New York characters are present. From a constantly late, yet charismatic Bobby Cannavale, to Michael Rispoli playing Ida’s clearly caring partner, but who is too caught up in whatever to know how to properly handle emotion. And it’s in these little New Yorker moments that Rodriguez shines.
With a full-out comedic intensity, even the most simple of questions or compliments sound like abrasive gestures. Upon witnessing something she doesn’t like in her restaurant, she asks the patron if “they can take it outside” calmly, yet it sounds equivalent to a bar fight. She’s as great in these moments as she is in the somber moments of reflection Daisy faces, making for a lead performance that’s impossible to take your eyes off. The sisters recount stories to one another that allow audiences to really get a sense of how fun New York must have been for them growing up. And the fun they had can still be held onto in scenes like Daisy’s baby shower, in her restaurant that is the namesake of the film. The balancing act between drama and celebration is handled very well, mainly due to the film being handled in such an introspective, mature manner.
Surely in reference to the Shakespearean quote, “All’s well that ends well”, this drama is a film full of hope. There is no single clear answer to any problem in life, and Allswell critically understands that. So what could the solution be? Sometimes all it requires is being present. There may be a time for assistance, but the most basic thing we can do as humans is let others know we are there when they need us. No matter how well intentioned a person may be, unwanted help will not be taken until the person is ready to accept it. A film so thematically and cinematically beautiful as this will surely resonate with many. And hopefully, it will inspire them to not just look to the past, but forward at whatever comes next.
Allswell celebrated its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. Tickets for screenings and more information on the film can be found right here.