The dude’s mom is clearly going to die. She’s hauling around an oxygen tank, and the first opportunity to bum a smoke, she does. You gotta love it. That’s about as real-life of a moment as you’re ever bound to see, in my opinion. My own mother-in-law ain’t all that far off from becoming like Bernie’s mom – people are who they are, and it’s rare that we’re lucky to ever change them. Rare but not at all impossible.
“Two Lives In Pittsburgh” immediately starts with thought-provoking substance and proceeds to give you visual clues as to where this is all gonna go. We’ve got blue-collar Bernie, a kid from the new generation named Maddie, and about a planet’s worth of distance between them underneath one roof. Bernie is your typical old-school provider, hard-working, sports-loving, beer-swilling, and somewhere underneath all that gruffness, is someone who wishes they understood things more than they do. He’s smart enough to see his kid has questions about his gender; he’s just not equipped to answer. “He’s 10 – how’s he supposed to see himself?” Bernie asks his teacher when confronted about Maddie, and if only there was an easy way to answer that question in a world that doesn’t seem to understand.
Take Bernie’s closest friends, for example…they’re not exactly progressives, you know what I mean? The first time we meet them, they’re debating who’s a “fa**ot” and who’s a “pu**y” – it’s not the most intellectual conversation you’re ever going to see onscreen, but it is uncomfortably & unfortunately real. Bernie clearly loves Maddie, but he’s struggling to come to grips with the future that he knows is ahead. At some point in time, all these issues are going to have to be dealt with, and deep down, Bernie knows that, but it sure doesn’t stop him from trying to delay the inevitable as best he can for as long as he can.
There’s a lot of heart and objective realism in “Two Lives In Pittsburgh” that I appreciated. I have no doubt that the character of Bernie will rub some folks the wrong way at first, and quite likely, his friends will even more. As hard as it might be for some to admit, evolution doesn’t happen overnight, no matter how much we might want that to be the case, and Bernie’s struggle to learn acceptance is the story of so many folks out there. The human race has got a whole lot of work cut out for it, but movies like “Two Lives In Pittsburgh” are crucial to the development we need. By being entirely unafraid to be extremely crass when necessary and truly heartfelt when it mattered most, this film nailed how tough it is to find the balance between being who you are, being who you need to be, and navigating the road to get there. From the blue-collar perspective, it shows us that “Two Lives In Pittsburgh” is immaculately profound.
Sometimes I notice strange things in life. Like, when my wife and I go out walking the dog, I usually end up making fun of houses that have two sets of their address on display, especially when they’re only feet apart from each other – and don’t even get me started on those that have a third set or we’ll be here all day. Anyhow. I noticed that Bernie’s house had a double set – 1028. Then I thought to myself, even though I’m not a religious person, I betcha there’s a 10:28 verse in the bible…and I wondered what that would be, so, of course, I looked it up. “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul.” I somehow doubt that’s merely an interesting coincidence, though I suppose it could be – it’s certainly a relevant passage that definitely applies to the real story of “Two Lives In Pittsburgh.” We’re all so much more than the packaging we come in, and the faster we accept that as a society, the quicker we’ll be on our way to the peace we deserve. If Bernie is capable of change, then the question becomes, aren’t we all? To hear his old friend/Maddie’s teacher Will describe the person Bernie used to be, we have to have some hope that we all have the ability to change for the better inside one lifetime.
There are plenty of reasons this movie is as great as it is. Writer/director Brian Silverman, who also plays Bernie in this story, clearly had an idea of exactly what he wanted to put on screen and how to go about it. To think that this is the guy’s debut film is nothing short of completely commendable – he’s definitely got a future in this business if this is the caliber of story he’s capable of creating. Casting is also a huge reason why this all works so well. Silverman himself is absolutely awesome in his role as Bernie, and Emma Basques as Maddie was spot-on as well – the leads do an excellent job, but perhaps even more to the point is how incredible the supporting cast was. You’ve got Annie O’Donnell as Maddie’s Grammy, and you’ve got Mark McClain Wilson as Will – they’re both amazing in their scenes. Characters like Theresa, played by Delissa Reynolds, not only steal the show, but they’re crucial to the heart of the story and what’s really being communicated. En masse, this whole crew is a force to be reckoned with, and they should be extraordinarily proud of what they’ve accomplished in this movie.
Silverman’s gotta be prepared for the dissent of a few out there, on both sides of the spectrum. You’re going to have folks out there who’ll never understand the message he’s sending, and you’re gonna have others who will undoubtedly think he went about it the wrong way - in terms of the language he chooses to use. To those that might disapprove, I’d advise them to take another look – a closer look – and to measure a film like this by its intentions every bit as much as its quality. Personally, I liked the use of language in “Two Lives In Pittsburgh” – it’ll be too foul for many, but it’s really used effectively in making a more significant point & establishing the generational differences we tend to tiptoe around in our modern times. There are fantastic twists to this storyline that you’d never see coming in a million years, and they make for some of the most profound moments you’ll see in “Two Lives In Pittsburgh.” From the writing to the execution, this is top-notch filmmaking, and what Silverman has created here authentically matters.
Look closely at the scene around the 1:10 mark - and understand how pivotal it truly is. We so often seek to understand important things, but even when we try to see things from another perspective, we can completely miss the point and actually cause even more trouble in the process. Silverman might have gotten that particular scene more correct than I’ve ever personally seen onscreen to date. I’m going with a strong four stars out of five overall – I’m impressed with Silverman’s debut film, and I’d certainly be willing to watch anything this guy chooses to direct or write based on what I’ve seen. It’s a great reminder that we all have so much to learn about each other - and a responsibility to do just that. The world seriously needs a strong progressive perspective like this that is unafraid to tell it like it is – “Two Lives In Pittsburgh” proves that Silverman has an insightful gift for showing us who we really are, but more importantly, he illuminates the pathway to our potential and reveals who we can become.