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TAVERN, THE(director/writer: Walter Foote; cinematographer: Kurt Lennig; editor: Josh Apter; music: Bill Lacey; cast: Cameron Dye (Ronnie), Kevin Geer (Dave), Margaret Cho (Carol), Nancy Ticotin (Gina), Carlo Alban (Tommy), Greg Zittel (Kevin), Gary Perez (Miguel), Steven Marcus (Jerry), Kym Austin (Sharon), Jennifer Harmon (Ronnie’s Mother); Runtime: 88; A Castle Hill Productions; 1999)
“A very satisfying indie film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An unsentimental human interest drama about surviving against all odds, that remains truthful to the subjects presented by avoiding a false ending. Written, directed and produced by Walter Foote, who is the son of the playwright Horton Foote, “The Tavern” is a realistic look at the dream of a pleasant, middle age, bachelor bartender, Ronnie (Dye), has to own a tavern and how that dream fails to emerge even though he works as hard as he could at it. It is a sobering look at business and relationships. It’s set in NYC.

Following his bar boss Jerry’s tip, Ronnie hunts down a neighborhood bar for sale owned by an arrogant guy named Kevin who claims to be moving to Florida. Ronnie needs to raise $60,000 cash between him and his partner, a glum assistant manager at a department store, Dave, who gets the money by borrowing from his pension. He goes against his wife Carol’s wishes, who wants a house in the suburbs. When Ronnie’s pop reneges on his offer to lend him the money, saying he needs it for his daughter’s wedding and then throws more cold water on him by saying “being a bartender is not the same as owning your own place,” Ronnie is then forced to borrow some money from Jerry (Steven Marcus)–an habitual horse racing bettor. Ronnie is also forced to borrow the rest he needs from his widowed sister-in-law, Gina, whose police officer husband was slain in the line of duty. She has his insurance money to offer but not before making Ronnie promise as a favor to hire and look after her troubled teenager son Tommy, who isn’t doing well in school and is hanging around with a rough crowd.

The grand opening for the Tavern on Main goes well, but soon afterwards they discover Kevin lied and opened a bar nearby. In this competitive restaurant/bar business, where failure within a year is 90 percent for new places, the partners find their food is mediocre and their business is not good. Kevin’s former customers do not patronize their place. Ronnie figures out that the reason for Kevin’s success is the chef Miguel, whom he steals from Kevin by offering him double the wages. As an added bonus, Tommy bonds with Miguel and learns how to cook from him and therefore begins to stop hanging out late at night. But Kevin retaliates by ratting the illegal immigrant Miguel out to the Immigration and Naturalization Service and then bailing him out and stealing him back. Ronnie can’t get another good chef. He therefore gets another loan from Jerry to put in music, using part of the business for collateral. After fixing up the place for music, he discovers he can’t get a permit for dancing.

Dave runs into a complaining woman customer at his store, who reports him to his bosses. They refuse to hear his side of the story and fire him. Jerry, because of his gambling debts to the bookies, hands over his holdings to the Mafia enforcers, which includes a share in Ronnie’s bar. The only good thing to come out of this experience, is that the shy Ronnie dates a boutique sales clerk, Sharon, who takes him to foreign films and offers him a solid romance of tenderness and caring.

It is a very satisfying indie film, without any glitter and bluster. It is well-scripted, well-acted, has likable characters as leads, and puts forth a meaningful story about the travails faced by ordinary people who are trying to move up the ladder by hard work. I recommend it as a change of pace from all those artificial Hollywood-type of survival dramas.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”