A woman walks down the streets of New York, wearing loud clothing and screaming obscenities. Is she mentally ill, or just a fashion victim having an argument on a cell phone? That’s the sense of uncertainty director Nancy Savoca and her co-writer, Mary Tobler, generate in the opening of their low-budget drama Union Square, and continue to explore for the next 80 minutes. Mira Sorvino plays a brash Bronx native who takes the train to Manhattan to do some shopping and to renew an affair with a man who, as it turns out, doesn’t want to see her. So Sorvino arrives unannounced at the apartment of her uptight sister Tammy Blanchard, who’s about to get married to Mike Doyle, with whom she runs a health-food company. Blanchard has lied to Doyle about her family, and hasn’t told her family much about Doyle. As Sorvino bursts Blanchard’s bubble, Union Square again questions whether its protagonist is unhinged, or whether she’s actually the “together” one, and Blanchard is the one who needs a dose of reality.
There’s nothing especially novel about this “Who’s to say who’s really crazy?” scenario. And Union Square is clichéd in other obvious ways, including sticking Sorvino’s “crass” character with a reality-TV habit, and falling back on the old joke of the “healthy” people sneaking cigarettes and candy. Most of Union Square’s thinness and over-familiarity may be attributable to the project’s origins; the movie reportedly came together because Savoca had the location and the time, and worked with Tobler to come up with a story they could shoot quickly, and mostly in one room. But the simplicity of the setting and plot also allows Savoca and Tobler to focus on what’s important to them: the relationship between these two women, and the ways family members embarrass each other. Union Square keenly observes how Sorvino disrupts Blanchard’s life with her loudness and sloppiness, but by the end of the movie, it’s also clear that while Blanchard doesn’t want her sister around, she doesn’t want to be cut off from Sorvino, either. There isn’t much to Union Square, but the movie does understand how people want to love their families on their own terms, forgetting that their families may be the only ones who really know who they are.