The Somerville Theatre is finally reopening, having been closed since March 2020. During that time, it’s undergone extensive renovations. There’ll be a greater emphasis than before on live events, but it remains a movie theater. And after screening at this year’s Independent Film Festival Boston and Roxbury International Film Festival, “Last Night in Rozzie” opens at the Somerville.
That’s “Rozzie” as in Roslindale. Sean Gannet’s drama does not lack for local references: Faulkner Hospital, the Jamaicaway, Dedham, Jamaica Plain, Fenway Monster Seats. But the themes and issues of Ryan McDonough’s script are universal: the pull of the past, parents and children, the burden of loyalty, the ties of friendship.
It’s 1994, and two boyhood friends in Roslindale are Little League teammates. We catch a glimpse — really it’s more just an intimation — of something very bad happening. Very soon, we jump ahead 25 years. One of those friends, Ronnie Russo, is now a corporate lawyer in New York. He receives a call from the other friend, Joey Donovan, who’s terminally ill. He wants to see Ronnie before he dies. He also has something that he wants Ronnie to do for him.
The two of them had more than baseball and friendship in common. Ronnie had a very serious crush on a girl named Pattie. She and Joey eventually married. What Joey wants Ronnie to do involves Pattie. It’s a stretch, if ostensibly straightforward, but the emotional layering gets complicated.
When the film keeps things simple, it’s at its best: uncluttered and assured. Take away Ronnie’s driving around in his Tesla, the occasional business calls to his Manhattan office, and flashbacks to 25 years ago, and “Last Night” is practically a chamber drama. Then the film becomes less simple. It gets a bit overwrought as certain personal histories are explained. Until that point, “Last Night” has had a nicely understated sense of propulsion. Also nicely understated is Jongnic Bontemps’s score.
Neil Brown Jr., as Ronnie, has the most challenging role. The one who got away, he now has to deal with the discoveries, often unpleasant, that come with returning. Brown recalls somewhat John David Washington (”BlacKkKlansman,” “Tenet”), with a similar wariness and held-in-check quality. Nicky Whelan’s Pattie is no-nonsense. She has a sense of certainty — “reality” might be a more accurate word — both men lack.
As Joey, Jeremy Sisto huffs and he puffs and nearly blows the movie down. He makes you wonder how Ronnie could ever have been friends with him then — and why he puts up with him now. But their history helps account for that. It’s not the setting or the various local references that make “Last Night” such a Boston movie. It’s how the past does so much to determine the present.
LAST NIGHT IN ROZZIE
Directed by Sean Gannet. Written by Ryan McDonough. Starring Neil Brown Jr., Nicky Whelan, Jeremy Sisto. At Somerville Theatre. 80 minutes. Unrated (as R: language, scenes of violence and intense emotion).
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.