A version of this review was published during the 2008 Philadelphia Film Festival.
There's a scene in Tom Quinn's very fine The New Year Parade in which the musical director of the South Philadelphia String Band, at the outset of the group's rehearsal, reminds the guys with their saxes and banjos that the silence between the notes is as key as the notes themselves.
"The space with no sound is as important as the space with notes in it," he explains.
Those are wise words, and Quinn, a Philadelphia-area writer and director, has taken them to heart. A keenly observed drama about the breakup of a South Philly family, The New Year Parade is full of quiet and noise - numb sorrow and crackling fireworks.
Spanning the course of a year, with the Mummers Parade and its preparations ever present, Quinn's movie trolls the rowhouses, taverns, and diners of South Philadelphia, describing the dissolution of the McMonoguls: A wife (Mary Ann McDonald) who's had an affair, a husband (Andrew Conway) who can't deal with it, and their kids - a bright, industrious high-schooler, Kat (Jennifer Welsh), and a twentysomething son, Jack (Greg Lyons), struggling to come to grips.
Quinn captures the gritty textures of the city - the crosshatching telephone wires, the metal awnings, the stalls of the Italian Market. And he finds beauty there, like the hulk of a given-up-for-dead ocean liner moored on the Delaware, looming large over an affectionate encounter between Kat and her stevedore dad.
The strengths of The New Year Parade - its documentary-like measure of the everyday, its easy barroom banter - sometimes become a weakness, too. A few of the performances feel forced, or self-conscious, underwritten or overexposed. But the main players are strong, and Irene Longshore, as Jack's new girlfriend, and Tobias Segal, as Kat's awkward, amorous classmate, are both memorable.
The New Year Parade won the grand jury prize at the 2008 Slamdance Film Festival. It deserves the recognition - and more. And not just from local audiences who see themselves, literally and figuratively, in Quinn's beautifully composed frames. Mummery may be uniquely Philadelphian, but The New Year Parade's bigger themes speak to the whole wide world.