It’s 1999. The Kendall family lives its dysfunctional existence on Staten Island: Vietnam War vet dad Ed (Michael Harney), mom Elaine (Karen Allen), Gulf War vet eldest son Kent (Johnny Whitworth), New York cop wannabe second son Todd (Theo Rossi) and mentally challenged DeeDee (Iris Gilad), who works at a factory in Brooklyn.
An official selection at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, “Bad Hurt” opens in U.S. theaters today, Feb. 12.
The Kendalls struggle through each day. Elaine, Ed and Todd all warn DeeDee about letting her boyfriend, Willy (Calvin Dutton), get too near. The fact is, no one in the family is happy about this romance between two mentally handicapped young people, but there is little they can do about it. Kent has never recovered from the Gulf War. He takes medication, is depressed, and barely moves from his bedroom despite the sometimes impatient encouragement from the family. Ed has never recovered from his time in Vietnam, though word is that he got a medal for his service. He has trouble with alcohol and spends most of his time in the garage, denying Elaine intimacy and leaving her to deal with everything. Todd, bless his heart, drives a transport van around Staten Island and wants to go to the NYPD academy more than anything. But he has failed the entrance exam before.
Day after day the family keeps on going, as hard as it is. Elaine releases pressure by screaming at everyone, though she regrets it soon after. Willy and DeeDee get caught doing something at work, and DeeDee is fired. But when something tragic and sad happens, this struggling family comes together and will be gently and sweetly surprised by DeeDee and Willy. This becomes an occasion of hope and grace for all.
“Bad Hurt” is based on a play written by director Mark Kemble and is semi-autobiographical. The film falls into the dramatic realism category because I’ve known families like this. There’s not much money but there is pain and love. Nothing is sugarcoated and the characters’ struggles and endurance ring true. At one point in the film, I thought, “Dear God, can’t this family catch a break?”
A closer reading of the film allows the audience to see the difference between enabling and disabling dysfunction — the tiny steps forward enabled by authentic love.
If DeeDee and Willy are the heart of the film, Karen Allen’s Elaine is its soul. She is a remarkably strong woman who keeps going and never seems to consider quitting or leaving. Michael Harney’s Ed (Harney plays Officer Healy in “Orange is the New Black”) keeps his secrets until the truth does indeed free him. Theo Rossi as Todd plays a young man who aspires to greatness but whose limitations keep him tethered to Earth.
I lived for 13 years on Staten Island (or “in” Staten Island — everyone blends on-in together, or says one or the other fast because no one really knows what preposition to use), and I liked figuring out where the scenes were set. The home is definitely in an older working class neighborhood, far from the newer homes that sprang up all over the island beginning in the ’80s. The “grey-brown” cast of the cinematography reminded me of the cold winters when spring seemed so far away.
No one really knows what goes on in a marriage, or what goes on behind the closed doors of a family — any family. Here, filmmaker Mark Kemble and team pull back the curtain to reveal a deeply felt reality that rebukes our judgment of our neighbors as it evokes compassion and admiration.
[Sr. Rose Pacatte, a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, is the director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles.]