Making the Grades
ADAPTED FROM HIS STAGE PRODUCTION, playwright Neil Simon manages to deliver a wonderful screenplay that works well on film -- even if the movie still feels a little like watching live theater.
Yonkers quietly examines the many relationships within a family, providing moments of comedy and enlightenment. The story is about two boys -- Jay (Brad Stoll) and Arty (Mike Darmus) who are left to stay with Grandma (Irene Worth) while dad goes to work for eight months hoping to repay a loan shark from whom he borrowed money to cover his late wife's medical bills.
Grandma runs a candy store, but you could hardly call her "sweet." She rules the business from her upstairs quarters where she lives with her adult daughter Bella (Mercedes Ruehl) -- a nice girl who struggles with a mild mental disability. Later, her other son, Louie (Richard Dreyfuss) pays a visit while attempting to evade a local mob boss he's working for.
Heavy on dialogue, the youngest viewers are likely to get lost in Yonkers, but the 12 and over age group may find Jay and Arty's predicament humorous. The boys can't help but get into some trouble (especially with Louie's smooth-talking influence), but need to make sure Grandma doesn't get wind of any questionable behavior.
Worth's portrayal of the elderly matriarch represents the tough, stubborn women that I hear stories about in my family. As I watched everyone trying to convince her that she needs to become more loving and accepting, I expected her to give in, especially in a scene near the end. But in reality such people are unlikely to change, and neither does this Grandma. Rather than force his characters to conform to new thinking and ideas, Simon sacrifices the neatly finished "perfect" ending and instead gives a believable response to the situation.
A slightly sensual scene with Bella and her similarly challenged boyfriend kissing in the park, along with some mild crass language from Uncle Louie (that goes along with his bad example), are the two main points of content concern. Otherwise this is a quality piece of theatrical cinema that illustrates how family relationships effect the generations to come.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Lost In Yonkers.
Jay helps Uncle Louie out of a tight situation involving his mob relations. Do you think he should have assisted him? Why do movies depict gangsters in comedic fashion? How do these portrayals influence our attitudes toward real criminals?
What do we learn about Grandma when she says goodbye to the boys near the end of the movie? Do you think she likes them more now than when they first came? What does Jay do that seems to earn Grandma’s respect? (You may want to discuss the fine line between being truthful about your feelings toward someone, and being considerate of their feelings.)