small film, which actor/co-producer/co-writer Jon Cryer says could be made 200
times for the budget allotted to Titanic,
is an absolute gem.
by Cryer and director/co-producer Richard Schenkman, Went to Coney Island… is part coming-of-age story, part mystery,
and part social problem film. The latter category encompasses the tackling of
mental illness, homelessness, and what one’s obligation might be to a loved
one—or simply a friend—who has ceased to function in society.
(Cryer), Stan (Rick Stear), and Richie (Rafael Báez) have been friends
since they were five, growing up on New York streets but basically living a
normal existence as precocious, middle-class American boys. As teens, Stan
underwent a botched medical procedure to correct a problem with his leg and was
left with a permanent limp, brace, and cane. Richie has a reputation as a
ladies’ man, but he holds a secret that he can’t reveal. Daniel is the
straight-arrow and probably the most intelligent of the trio.
the present day the threesome is in their thirties. Daniel works a regular job in
a pawn shop/jeweler, and Stan is an alcoholic and has a gambling problem. The
woman in his life, Gabby (Ione Skye), has about had it with him. Richie is
simply… missing in action. He disappeared years earlier after a tragedy
occurred in his family. One day, Stan hears that Richie is homeless and living
under the boardwalk in Coney Island. Using a childhood code for ditching school
and doing something more “important,” Stan tells Daniel that they have a “mission
from God”—they must go to Coney Island and look for Richie.
winter, so Coney Island is mostly closed-down except for a handful of sleazy
shops and midway attractions. The once famous amusement park is practically a
ghost town, on its way to oblivion. Daniel and Stan make their way around the
area, encountering various misfits and wackos, until they do indeed find their
long, lost friend. Richie isn’t in good shape. What follows is an intervention
of sorts, as well as a redemption for the two main protagonists.
in numerous flashbacks and contemporary (1998) scenes, Went to Coney Island masterfully draws the viewer into the intimate
lives of the characters. It explores their inner demons, but it also exhibits
what it means to be true friends. While this might sound like a dire
experience, much of the picture is hilarious. The various weirdos and how
Daniel/Stan react to them provides the kinds of laughs one might find in a John
Hughes picture—only these have a little more bite. This is “dramedy” at its
Cryer and Stear are excellent in their roles. Schenkman’s direction is
pitch-perfect, easily pushing the movie to the top of his eclectic body of
work. The way the flashbacks to the 1980s are handled reveal sensitive insight
on the mood and sensibility of the era. Schenkman’s handling of the Coney
Island sequences evokes a wide palate of moods and imagery.
is art-house cinema of the highest order.
new High Definition Blu-ray release incorporates a frame-by-frame digital
restoration from original 35mm film elements, and it looks spectacular. The
main feature comes with 5.1 Surround Audio (uncompressed PCM) and 2.0 stereo,
plus an audio commentary by both Schenkman and Cryer. The pair also appear in a
new, short introduction to the film. Supplements include a behind-the-scenes
featurette that contains new and vintage footage; The Producer,a comedy
short from the period directed by Schenkman; a photo gallery; and the original
theatrical trailer. A mini-poster comes in the package.
Went to Coney Island
on a Mission from God…Be Back by Five could stand alongside such low-budget
classics as My Bodyguard, Breaking Away, and sex, lies and videotape. Check it out.