Dominick and Eugene
Written by Alvin Sargent and Corey Blechman
Directed by Robert M. Young
At the USA Harvard Square
DOMINICK and Eugene is yet another of Hollywood's heartwarming movies with a predictable plot, but good acting, an enlightening peek at working-class Pittsburgh and reference to important social issues redeem the film.
A childhood head injury has left "Nicky" (Tom Hulce) a bit "slow" mentally. At the beginning of the film, Nicky jokingly asks his dog, "I wonder who's stupider, you or me?" For a while, this seems a legitimate question, but Nicky's charm begins to dominate the film. Hulce, best known for his title role in Amadeus, brings to life a beauty that transcends physical appearances or social graces. Caught up in his own childlike world of superheroes and comic books, Nicky is as irresistible as a puppy.
But Nicky has to face the harsh realities of being poor and "slow" in Pittsburgh. He is a garbage "helper" for a private truck and receives low wages and inadequate benefits. Neighborhood thugs of all sorts find trusting Nicky to be easy prey.
Fortunately, twin brother "Gino," played by Ray Liotta (see accompanying interview), is around to provide protection. Gino is in his final year of medical school, paid for by Nicky's garbage salary. Strong, handsome, intelligent-yet-sensitive Gino beats up or otherwise intimidates any hooligans who seem to pose a threat to Nicky. When Gino becomes a doctor, the brothers plan to buy a house by a lake and live happily ever after.
All seems well in storyland, but even the best-laid plans of mice and men.... Gino accepts an important internship at Stanford but comes to realize that Nicky cannot take care of himself or cope with the California lifestyle. The appearance of Jennifer Reston, Gino's love interest (Jamie Lee Curtis), complicates matters. Egged on by a co-worker, Nicky begins to fear that Gino will leave him for Jennifer. A series of more serious problems then confront the pair, but finally, all is resolved, and the love between the brothers is renewed in an utterly predictable ending.
Dominick and Eugene may sound like yet another Hollywood entry in the entertaining tear-jerker genre. It is, but it has a little extra substance. The film does consider social problems. Most of the film occurs in poor, working-class Pittsburgh. Although any conclusions drawn are not controversial (child abuse hurts those involved, and mentally "slow" people can be very nice), Dominick and Eugene can be commended for at least provoking thought about important issues.
ALTHOUGH Tom Hulce dominates the film with his exceptional portrayal of Nicky, Ray Liotta gives a reasonably competent performance as Gino. Liotta avoids the potential trap of making guardian angel Gino seem like a Superman by portraying an easy frustration with Nicky's mistakes. While Nicky pathetically begs forgiveness for some stupid mistake, Gino mercilessly continues to scold his brother. Liotta is best during emotional scenes, but his acting suffers whenever he is separated from Hulce, particularly in scenes away from the inner-city world Nicky and Gino live in. Fortunately, most of Liotta's scenes are emotional encounters with Nicky.
Jame Lee Curtis makes use of what little opportunity she gets to create depth of character in Jennifer Reston, the rich medical student who is Gino's love interest. As Jennifer, she tries to be nice to Nicky and caring to Gino. Local viewers may find Jennifer particularly cute in the crimson Harvard sweatshirt with white lettering sold at the Coop but will gain little else from Curtis' part in the film. Curtis does not really detract from the movie, but she does not contribute much either.
The other supporting actors, however, turn in performances which greatly enhance the production. Todd Graff is enjoyable to watch as Larry, the seedy self-styled ladies' man. Larry, tries to expose Nicky to women, alcohol and music. But Larry is the nicest *** you have ever seen, as he takes Nicky out for a night on the town after an emergency at the hospital keeps Gino away on the twins' birthday.
Mimi Cecchini gives a good performance as the matronly Mrs. Gianelli, who provides pasta and advice for the twins. After one of Nicky's blunders upsets Gino, she observes, "He's a beautiful boy, Eugene. He's God's boy." Tom Signorelli is funny as the priest to whom devoutly Catholic Nicky turns. He comforts Nicky on the loss of his dog with, "Mrs. Gianelli told me about Fred. I'm sorry. They go to Heaven too, you know."
Hulce's performance as Nicky is the center of Dominick and Eugene. Nicky's "slowness" is believable, and his unabashed loyalty to and love for his brother make him easy to root for. Hulce also renders Nicky's reactions to encounters with sexuality and with nasty people believable. If you want to see a good performance by the actor who was nominated for an Academy Award for his puerile Mozart, or if you like heart-warming stories with happy endings, then Dominick and Eugene is a film worth seeing.