Adrift in Manhattan

Alfredo de Villa

In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, worried about taking a ride from a total stranger, Kate Winslet tells Jim Carrey that this may be a page right out of the stalker’s handbook. Carrey questions the idea of a stalker’s handbook and while there may not be a book for stalkers yet, they are certainly represented enough in song (the ever creepy Police hit “Every Breath You Take” that some fool decided was romantic) and immortalized on film, most notably in the works of voyeur extraordinaire Alfred Hitchcock (Rear Window, Vertigo) for a handbook to be made. While in a film like Untamed Heart, it becomes a benefit that Christian Slater followed pretty waitress Marisa Tomei home every night after work since she walked through a dangerous Minneapolis area (and he must intervene in a horrifying attack), in most movies (like Disturbia) we often we have characters who seem to see a beautiful stranger and attracted to that, begin to follow or gawk. Taking a cue from Hitchcock, screenwriter Nat Moss (working from a story by the director) and director Alfredo de Villa make our young main character Simon Colon (Victor Rasuk) an aspiring photographer. Sheltered by a domineering and more than slightly Oedipal like relationship with his mother, the camera acts as a buffer for Simon from the real world and seems to offer the only chance the young man gets to have a breath of fresh air aside from his work in a camera shop (of course) and his home life.

When he sees the colorful scarf adorned, classically beautiful Dr. Rose Phipps (Heather Graham) in a crowded square, instinctively Simon begins snapping photos and just as impulsively begins to follow her, determined to get more photos as if it were an accident. However, the fact that he keeps returning to the same place isn’t an accident and soon he begins to be drawn in not only by Rose’s beguiling beauty but also her life as he follows her home and snaps photos across from her building, beginning to realize that she is going through a devastating loss after her baby died and has separated from bearded poetry professor husband Mark (William Baldwin) who shows up to take Rose to see Wilder’s The Apartment, deeming it to be the perfect cathartic blend of melancholy and humor. Although we are instantly as wrapped up in Rose’s plot as Simon is and we realize that he would never harm the object of his new obsession, it’s an unapologetically disturbing situation that grows even more darkly fascinating when (perhaps struck by conscience), he decides to deliver the photos to Rose, leaving her enough clues to realize who he is and what's he's happened. There’s a tentative power reversal as Rose has the upper hand but soon, the strangers who are bonded by both Simon’s strange actions as well as sadness begin to interact and it’s fascinating to watch, if slightly hard to believe.

However, the real beauty of Adrift in Manhattan isn’t only the lovely Graham who finally has a chance to prove she can act for the first time in years but in the heartbreaking saga of the elderly Tommaso Pensara (The Sopranos’ Dominic Chianese) who works in a mail room by day and paints lovely pictures at night, only to learn from his optometrist Dr. Rose Phipps that he is going blind. Soon he begins to have trouble delivering mail and finds his attraction to the pretty Isabel (Elizabeth Pena) in jeopardy when he worries what will happen in the future. Given advice by Rose to act, the two embark on a careful, sweet courtship that seems to be the polar opposite from the Rose and Simon plot but nevertheless, contemplative independent film fans will be able to see overlapping themes and motifs such as the usage of eyes in Rose’s work, as well as Simon and Tommaso’s hobbies as well as the need to be seen clearly and with empathy by another human being throughout. Although it starts off in a rather off-putting way given the stalker set-up, Adrift in Manhattan is a nice, delicate film and one of the most anticipated pre-sell-outs of the 2007 Scottsdale International Film Festival. Winner of three awards from festivals across the country, Adrift in Manhattan, which made its DVD debut recently, was also nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Sundance Film Festival.