Third-Degree Burns

In the introduction to his collected screenplays (Hyperion, 1997), Burns says that his first goal as a filmmaker was to "take a look at what it was like to grow up Irish Catholic in America." If No Looking Back is any indication, when the people he knows get into their thirties they shed many of their Irish Catholic attributes, especially their anxieties over sex and damnation. What Burns wallows in here is a simultaneously nostalgic and condescending vision of a run-down East Coast prole town. On the positive side, the presence of Bruce Springsteen songs like "I'm on Fire" on the soundtrack suggests an elemental vitality to the close-knit, desperate community, where men eek out an existence with low-paying jobs, and women keep their eyes peeled for the slightest shift in the courting scene.

But in Claudia's view, the whole town is one big dead end. The clearest statement of what she wants, or at least what she doesn't, comes when she tells Michael she'd rather go to "a nice restaurant" in the city than to his mother's house for a big meal: "Because we haven't left this town to do anything in over a year. It would be nice to see something other than the same people and the same streets. Besides, every time we go over to your mother's, you and your brothers sit in the living room and watch football, and your mother and sister trap me in the kitchen and ask when we are going to get married."

There's no dishonor in being a good waitress, but Claudia feels that it would be a living death to grow old as one. And there's no indication she could do anything else. Her distance from an older waitress made me yearn for the inspirational sisterhood-is-wonderful diner scenes in Martin Scorsese's peppy Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1975). Burns plays the class card, all right, but with an upwardly mobile strategy. And he deals it from the bottom of the deck.

No Looking Back.
Directed and written by Edward Burns. Starring Edward Burns, Lauren Holly, and Jon Bon Jovi.

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