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Tribeca Review: ‘Allswell’ is a melodrama minus the momentum

'Allswelll' struggles to maintain melodrama in face of minimal momentum.

Allswell is an old-fashioned family melodrama, which spends time introducing relationships, laying out their connections, and then cranking tensions up a notch. Directed by Ben Snyder and written by Liza Colon-Zayas, Elizabeth Rodriguez and Daphne Rubin-Vega, it takes time to gain momentum.

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Daisy (Rodriguez) and Ida (Colon-Zayas) are sisters who lead busy lives as a doctor and restaurant owner respectively. Their close friend Serene (Rubin-Vega) is trying to raise her teenage daughter Connie (Shyrley Rodriguez) alone, having separated from the siblings’ brother Desmond (Felix Solis) some time ago. Other family members include Ida’s husband Ray (Michael Rispoli), Daisy’s business partner Gabe (Bobby Cannavale), and Tim (Max Casella), who completes her trio in this endeavor.

Outside of that close-knit group, there is also Nina (Mackenzie Lansing), a surrogate who is having her baby for Daisy, and Clint (J. Cameron Barnett), who works closely with Ida at their wellness clinic. All the drama, either genuine or otherwise, plays out between these characters as audiences are invited to experience a few days in their company.

What slowly becomes apparent is that any friction, however fraught, feels low key and a touch mundane. Rodriguez, Rubin-Vega and Colon-Zayas might bring a degree of reality to their roles in the meandering ensemble piece, yet somehow it’s left wanting. In many ways it feels like an 1980s Woody Allen effort, similar to Hannah and Her Sisters, in that it creates melodrama through overlapping interactions, as one crisis feeds off another, perpetually escalating events until a resolution presents itself.

Of the onscreen relationships forged in Allswell, those that stand out most prominently involve Serene and Connie, as a mother/daughter combo who seem incapable of communication. Elsewhere, Gabe is a fleetingly charismatic presence who plays a small but crucial role in this melodrama, allowing Cannavale to breeze in, steal his scenes, and then disappear.

In the other supporting corner, Barnett and Rispoli share a key scene later on, one that proves pivotal in connecting two diverse figures. Caught in a moment of extreme emotional turmoil, Ray looks to Clint for help comforting Ida as her world crumbles. In amongst a slew of similar world-ending events, this is the one which hits home hardest. Not because of any loss being experienced, though, but because a genuine life lesson has been learned.

Other high points include an intimate scene between Connie and Daisy, following an exodus by Serene’s daughter as she runs off to pursue modelling opportunities. Before this, both women had been defined in broad strokes by maternal insecurity and teenage angst respectively, leaving audiences with archetypes rather than someone dramatically unique with whom they could identify. In their car journey together, which comes later on, that all changes as chances for scenery-chewing are limited by location, meaning the two must connect by other means.

In a simple conversation punctuated by the sound of traffic, an honest connection is made, and bad feelings are laid to rest. That is when Allswell turns a corner and starts pulling together all the disparate threads, which up until that point, had threatened to make this film another pedestrian melodrama.

Unfortunately, those elements which elevate Allswell above mediocrity get diminished, as too much time is spent establishing tension. It’s also far too clear that Daisy, Ida and Serene were written for the actors who penned the screenplay, even though they work hard to make any supporting roles equally meaty by comparison.

However, a handful of scenes with genuine organic emotion are not enough to consistently make Allswell the engaging family drama it should have been. There’s no denying the ensemble hard to create an insightful piece of entertainment centered around inter-generational connections, but somehow it falls short of that intention.

The high-water mark for films in this subgenre come no better than The Royal Tenenbaums, released over 20 years ago. Wes Anderson hit all the pertinent points on family dysfunction, familial jealousies and absentee father figures in a film which still stands up today. Granted, comparisons between that and Allswell might seem redundant since Anderson had access to more money and a larger creative canvas. However, those factors can only be exploited when there is something of substance beneath the surface.


Flashes of narrative inspiration and solid performances are not enough to rescue Allswell from mediocrity, as momentum remains in short supply.

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