An explosive family drama whose intense performances can’t always compensate for such a heavy-handed scenario, Bad Hurt nonetheless marks a promising directorial debut from playwright Mark Kemble, who adapts his New England-set play to the big screen with a new cast and location — in this case the oft-maligned NYC borough of Staten Island.
Starring Sons of Anarchy’s Theo Rossi as the only responsible child of a volatile household marked by drug abuse, battlefield trauma and mental illness, and the rarely seen Karen Allen as a mother trying to hold it all together, the film features a terrific cast and definitely has its heart in the right place, though it tends to wear that heart on its sleeve in some highly theatrical ways. Following last year’s Tribeca premiere, a small release from Screen Media should lend attention to a project that will reach most viewers on VOD and other ancillary channels.
Rossi plays Todd Kendall, a city bus driver hoping to become a cop, but whose professional dreams are thwarted by the demands of a destructive family. His older brother, Kent (Johnny Whitworth), suffers from severe PTSD following the Gulf War — the film takes place in 1999 — while his sister, DeeDee (Iris Gilad), is mentally handicapped and in need of around-the-clock care. And while Todd’s mother, Elaine (Allen), does everything in her power to keep the clan united, his Vietnam vet dad (Michael Harney) prefers to tune out much of the noise while letting decades of anger remain bottled up inside.
The stage is thus set for a turbulent Christmas holiday where the Kendalls are tested by Kent’s deteriorating state of mind and DeeDee’s growing attachment to Willy (Calvin Dutton), a fellow special needs person with whom things seem to be getting uncomfortably frisky. Yet as much as Todd tries to be a good son and brother, his kinsfolk continuously get the better of him, while the relationship with his father goes from pained to agonizing in a final act that takes everyone to the limit and back again.
With an array of dramatic firestorms that begin after the first scene and pepper the narrative till the end, Kemble carries us deeper and deeper inside a close-knit family that’s forever on the verge of imploding, and whose normal functioning state seems to be one of semi-chaos. Giving his actors plenty to chew on, the director and co-writer Jamieson Stern has crafted a script that can definitely feel stagy at times — which is not necessarily a problem with such strong performers, yet still feels overtly heavy during certain sequences (especially those involving the mental war wounds of the Kendall men).
Staten Island native Rossi is especially memorable as a wayward everyman whose disarming smile cannot overcome the tidal wave of parental pressure, while Indiana Jones’ Allen convincingly embodies a working-class mother courageously holding down the fort when everyone else gives up. Gilad, who starred in the original theater production, is also good in a difficult role that maintains its share of humor and warmth, providing the film with some much-needed lightness.
Indeed, where Bad Hurt appears most original is in its unadorned portrayal of DeeDee and Willy, two childlike adults who tend to make those around them miserable while searching for happiness, and whose carefree, sometimes off-putting antics can have a redemptive quality to them. There’s a telling scene early on when Elaine refers to her daughter as “retarded,” adding that the term never posed a problem back when her girl was born. Such a moment underscores the unique bond that keeps the Kendalls together — a form of hard-nosed affection that isn’t afraid to look adversity in the face and call it love.
Production companies: Dos Dudes Pictures, in association with FROST Pictures and Verdi Productions
Distributor: Screen Media Films
Cast: Karen Allen, Michael Harney, Theo Rossi, Johnny Whitworth, Ashley Williams, Calvin Dutton, Iris Gilad
Director: Mark Kemble
Screenwriters: Mark Kemble, Jamieson Stern, based on the play ‘Bad Hurt on Cedar Street’ by Mark Kemble
Producers: Theo Rossi, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Nicholas Carmona, Nicholas Koskoff, Jamieson Stern, Pamela Thur
Executive producers: Chad A. Verdi, Michelle Verdi, Patrick McErlean, Tom Archdeacon, Brian Arnott, Timothy Jones
Director of photography: Igor Kropotov
Production designer: Gabrael Wilson
Costume designer: Havi Elkaim
Editor: Jennifer Lilly
Composer: Tina DiGeorge
Casting director: Caroline Sinclair
Sales agent: XYZ Films