Film Review: The Quitter

Seven years after alienating his fledgling family, a failed baseball player tries to make amends in this modest, intermittently charming Brooklyn-set drama about the ties that bind.

Once-promising player Jonathan Lembo (director and co-producer Matthew Bonifacio, himself briefly an MLB prospect) washed out early and now runs a Coney Island batting cage, squabbles with his retired parents (veteran character actors Dan Grimaldi, Deirdre O'Connell) and hangs out with his buddies. That is, until the day he's jogging along the boardwalk and spots his former girlfriend, Georgie (Bonifacio's then fiancée, now wife Julianna Gelinas Bonifacio), with Luka (Destiny Monet Cruz), the daughter he hasn't seen since she was an infant.

Georgie, who recently moved back to the old neighborhood and is working for her uncle (Jack O'Connell),  is still spitting mad at Jonathan and has told Luka that her absentee dad has been working abroad for all these years. Overall, she's less-than-receptive to Jonathan's desire to get to know his little girl, but eventually relents on a trial basis—three visits—with the caveat, three strikes and he's out. That's a lot of pressure on both sides, especially given that Jonathan is going through a rough patch with his dad, a still-ferocious competitor who lives to belittle his laid-back son, and Georgie is struggling to reconnect with a community that's moved on since she moved out.

Shot largely in Bonifacio's native Brooklyn, The Quitter lives or dies on the father-daughter dynamic, which for all its formulaic arc is less cloying and relentlessly cute than the Hollywood norm. Cruz's Luka comes off as a nice, generally well-behaved kid rather than a wind-up moppet, and Bonifacio is honest enough to allow that Jonathan, while basically a decent guy, is kind of a juvenile jerk. This is a guy who, despite his sincere (if belated and painfully slow) efforts to grow up, has never worked up the nerve to tell his own mother, who quietly longs for grandchildren, that she already has one. Kudos also to Jack O'Connell, who turns a few scenes into an object lesson in making a major impact with a minor part: His Uncle Richard is a nuanced, fully developed character, a hard-working man who loves his niece ferociously but is willing to wait and see whether Jonathan has matured enough to do the right thing.

Like Bonifacio's ambitious debut feature, Lbs. (2004), about a morbidly obese Brooklyn man's increasingly desperate efforts to slim down, The Quitter is destined for niche markets where, with any luck, it will find a core audience of viewers looking for movies with more heart than razzle-dazzle.

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