In New York in the 1950's, Mac (Turtutto), an Italian American is encouraged by his wife to go into the building trade with his two brothers. While Mac takes more and more pride in his work, his brothers begin to want a life outside the job.
A labour of love inspired by his larger-than-life father, John Turturro's directorial debut is a highly original and surprisingly unsentimental portrait of an old-fashioned immigrant patriarch. Niccolo "Mac" Vitelli (Turturro) is an imperious, volatile and hypersensitive craftsman who is funded by his wife (Borowitz) to go into business with his two younger brothers, Vico (Badalucco) and Bruno (Capotorto), as a building contractor. The time is the late 50s, the place is the New York borough of Queens, and the movie is a distressed comedy of Italian-American manners.
Turturro spares us no details of the potentially tedious business of house construction, from the land auction to the final sales pitch, but manages to invest each with a measured balance of absurdity and pathos. It is clear that, for Mac, building houses is more than a craft it is a statement of personal integrity bordering on the metaphysical. His two brothers, of course, want a life outside work, and find it increasingly hard to cope with his exacting demands. The result is an escalating spiral of silent misunderstanding, repressed violence and panic attacks.
The movie ends on an ambivalent note, with Turturro making explicit the connection between his father's craft and his own art. Judged on those terms, it has to be said that while Mac is an honest statement, it suffers from some technical flaws. It is imperfectly finished and roughly handled in places, and whenever the focus moves away from Mac, the confusions about people's motives multiply. Particularly intrusive is a whole sub-plot featuring Ellen Barkin which attempts to force the nascent bohemia of Greenwich Village into the muscular neighbourhood of Queens. But these are minor quibbles, and despite them Mac remains an engaging tribute to blue-collar male pride.
Turturro is so concerned with doing his father justice that he forgets to keep the film entertaining. With so much information on building houses surprisingly not the problem, the film's only flaw is the introduction of Ellen Barkin's character. Otherwise an enjoyable film with solid performances.