Film Review: Sparrows Dance

An agoraphobic meets a plumber, a dreary prospect with even drearier results.

Noel Buschel’s Sparrows Dance centers on a no-name actress (Marin Ireland) who lives alone in New York and suffers from severe agoraphobia. Her days are spent watching television, ordering in food which she insists be left outside her door so she doesn’t have to see the deliveryman, and riding her exercise bike like a bat out of hell. When her toilet overflows, she is forced to open her door to the outside world—namely, a plumber named Wes (Paul Sparks). Wes happens to be a jazz musician as well, and the two strike up a wary relationship based on their shared love of music.

The film opens with the actress sitting on her soon-to-be-combust toilet, and there’s much more of that dreariness to come. Although not based on a two-hander of a play, the film certainly feels that way, with the odd thing being that it’s much more absorbing in its initial scenes of the woman alone than in those featuring her burgeoning rapport with Wes. Ireland, a busy stage actress who’s found success in the work of Neil LaBute, has a haunted, burnt-out look appropriate to her role, and is initially amusingly idiosyncratic, pretending to be a man on the phone, ordering extra portions of Chinese food, and placidly watching Barbara Stanwyck at her meanest in Lewis Milestone’s lurid noir-Gothic  The Strange Love of Martha Ivers on the tube. But the role is such a monotonously conceived, airless writer’s conceit of full-on eccentricity that the actress is ultimately defeated. Stage fright is the reason for this once-successful thespian’s breakdown, but the way Tennessee Williams’ Alexandra Del Lago handled a similar problem in Sweet Bird of Youth was so much more amusing, with her hashish, booze and stud service.

Things aren’t helped much by the performance of Sparks, who comes off like a slightly less manic Michael Rapaport, riddled with his own affectations of mumbled delivery and a forced “streetwise” accent. The chemistry which would make this Frankie and Johnny at the Claire de Lune (another misfit two-hander I didn’t care for) work is entirely lacking here, even though Buschel tries to up the romantic ante by featuring an extended shot of the pair dancing together, which merely comes off as self-indulgent. Likewise are the affected shots of the two in bed, having endless post-coital conversations, illuminated by the on-and-off neon light of a street sign outside, which makes the screen go black at intervals. This stagy device only makes the woman’s apartment seem even more of a set than it already is, while the dialogue does nothing to inspire added interest.