"3 Backyards": A Mood Movie on Long Island

A rare breed of mood movie, 3 Backyards crossfades through three stories, each begun in an unidentified Long Island suburb. The protagonists are an anxious housewife, Peggy (Edie Falco); a man burdened by vague marital and financial worry, John (Elias Koteas); and an in-her-own-world 9-year-old, Christina (Rachel Resheff). In the course of a single afternoon, the accustomed routine of each is trespassed upon. A vacationing actress (Embeth Davidtz) asks Peggy to drive her to the ferry; on standby purgatory before a business trip, John observes an immigrant woman (Danai Gurira) smiling enigmatically as she's denied job opportunities; short-cutting to school through boundary-line overgrowth, Christina, in the most queasy story line, encounters a trollish village idiot. Eric Mendelsohn's first film since 1999's Judy Berlin is devoted to finding descriptive correlatives to liminal emotional states through the cast's eloquent reaction shots and the camera's depiction of homely environments — the tense cabin of Peggy's car, the desolate terrain around the airport that John explores, Christina's fairy-tale plunge into the patchy woods — with ornate, flowing visual vocabulary. The soft, irresolute ending is only the end of hostilities between a style redolent of what William Dean Howells called "poor Real Life" and a story in which poor real folks are granted perspective only by brushing up against starlets, accidents, and villains of the tabloid press.

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