Sparrows Dance: Film Review

Marin Ireland and Paul Sparks deliver terrific performances in this charmingly quirky love story.

Noah Buschel's sweetly comic love story concerns an agoraphobic and the plumber who brings her out of her shell.

Movies about agoraphobics have a necessarily claustrophobic quality, but Noel Buschel’s Sparrows Dance manages to overcome its spatial limitations with surprising ease and grace. This is due partly to the affecting story and characterizations and partly to the director/screenwriter’s skill at conveying his central character’s psychological plight in rigorous technical fashion.

The unnamed figure, played by Marin Ireland, is a stage actress who has developed a severe case of stage fright that has blossomed into full-blown agoraphobia. Unable to leave her apartment, she spends her days in a quiet routine of exercising furiously on a stationary bike, watching television, and ordering in food, insisting that the delivery man leave it outside her door. She also spends a fair amount of time in the bathroom, as evidenced by the numerous shots of Ireland sitting on the toilet.

Her solitary routine is rudely interrupted by a severely overflowing toilet that causes water to flow into the apartment below, prompting a furious tirade by its unseen inhabitant. She calls a plumbing agency, and when they refuse to give her step-by-step instructions over the phone she’s forced to allow the presence of the friendly, soft-spoken Wes (Paul Sparks), who reveals that he’s a plumber by day and jazz musician by night.

Since her antique plumbing requires multiple visits, the two form a quiet friendship that blossoms into romance after he asks her out. She instead invites him to come over for dinner, with things proceeding quickly from there.

The quiet, uneventful storyline proceeds slowly but meaningfully, eventually reaching a dramatic turn when she discloses her condition and he in turn asks if she can manage to overcome it long enough to attend the opening night of his debut gig at the Village Vanguard.

Shot in a squared-off 4:3 aspect ratio that emphasizes the woman’s psychological limitations, the two-hander film doesn’t display its title card until a good half-hour into the running time, just after Wes literally and figuratively enters the picture. Later, in a quietly touching scene when the two characters dance, the director begins shooting the sequence from such a distance that we see the darkened soundstage surrounding the brightly lit set. It’s a boldly distancing device that somehow works.  

But what really gives the film its emotional punch are the deeply affecting performances by the two leads. Ireland, given much solo screen time, invests her character with the necessary tics while also making her deeply sympathetic. And the low-key Sparks, a veteran stage actor best known for his manic turn as a gangster in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, projects a quirky, low-key charm that is wonderfully appealing. Their terrific performances, and the beautifully observed screenplay, make Sparrows Dance an unexpectedly moving experience.

Opens Aug. 23 (Tribeca Film)

Production: OneZero

Cast: Marin Ireland, Paul Sparks

Director/screenwriter: Noah Buschel

Producers: Samantha Housman, Louise Runge

Executive producer: Michaela Conlin

Director of photography: Ryan Samul

Editor: Brett Jutkiewicz

Production designer: Megan Cotts

Costume designer: Jamie Bresnan

Not rated, 81 min.