In the Soup
1992, R, 93 min. Directed by Alexandre Rockwell. Starring Seymour Cassel, Steve Buscemi, Jennifer Beals, Pat Moya.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 6, 1993
When would-be film director Adolpho Rollo (Buscemi) needs quick cash to keep his thug landlord away from his NYC tenement door, he places a classified ad offering his 500-page screenplay for sale. Highlights of this potential film feature things such as the author's ongoing conversations with Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky, 20 minutes of black leader inserted to mimic a character's blindness, and the object of Adolpho's unrequited love – his next-door neighbor Angelica (Beals) – as the unsuspecting star of his movie. Amazingly, Adolpho's ad is answered and that's how he gets in the soup with Joe (Cassell). Joe is a small-time gangster with a Zorba-like zest for life who wants to finance Adolpho's film because he's decided to “make art an important part of his life.” Cassell's Joe is a stupendous creation. His energy, vitality and curiosities expand to fill every scene, pleasurably captivating the audience much like the spell he casts over the young artiste. Adolpho is so taken with Joe's charisma that he's able to partake in the criminal cash-raising ventures that Joe leads him into. In the Soup won the prize for best dramatic feature at the Sundance Film Festival this year. Moreover, Seymour Cassell deservedly won the festival's best actor award. His performance ranks among the truly great. Actually, the movie is filled with fine performances, including Buscemi's expression of perpetually dour befuddlement and Beals' depiction of a Hispanic waitress. (Interestingly, Beals is married to director Alexandre Rockwell, who, interestingly, has the same initials as Adolpho Rollo.) The use of Cassell is also a link to one of In the Soup's stylistic influences, John Cassavetes, the director with whom Cassell is most closely associated. Another evident influence, Jim Jarmusch, turns up as an actor here in a humorous bit as a co-producer with Carol Kane of an access TV show. Shot in stunning black-and-white, the compositions almost behave like characters themselves, providing playful dollops of humor and visual treats as well as ironic commentaries. In the Soup's charm is based in its humor, in its odd bits of business that happen in the margins. It makes for a high level of unpredictability in what would otherwise be a highly predictable scenario – that of a young filmmaker striving to make his first feature. Narratively, there's very little arc to hang on to; the movie boils down to a collection of moments. Some may find too many quirks and too little story for their personal tastes, others may like this soup just fine.