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Hal Hartley's ambitious 1997 feature has a precise sense of everyday life in a working-class neighborhood of Queens: the sense of community, the casual desperation of people without defenses, the way people hang out on their front stoops or in the local convenience store. He uses his quirky, almost diagrammatic style to give us two literary archetypes: a repressed garbageman named Simon (James Urbaniak), who supports his invalid mother (Maria Porter) and oversexed sister (Parker Posey) and serves as the local scapegoat, and the title hero (Thomas Jay Ryan), a rebellious autodidact with a prison record who rents Simon's family's basement flat and encourages Simon to write. When Simon goes on to become a celebrity while his teacher remains mired in trouble and obscurity, a more abstract design begins to take shape. What eventually emerges isn't nearly as achieved or convincing as the neighborhood portrait, but even when it ultimately overwhelms the characters, it's full of juice, humor, and nuance. R, 137 min.

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