Steven Starr's "Joey Breaker" (at the Beverly Connection) is a jaunty little movie that's full of surprises and, beneath its humor, an unexpected and refreshing seriousness. Richard Edson has the title role as a brash Manhattan-based talent agent for whom a telephone is virtually an appendage. Having worked his way up from the mail room, Joey, after 10 years, is nearing the top of a tough profession he clearly loves; the man gets a terrific charge out of the constant wheeling and dealing.
Joey seems contented when a series of events impact upon his life more than he--or we--at first realize. One of the senior agents (Mary Joy) successfully coaxes him to come along with her to have lunch with her friend Alfred (Fred Fondren), a librarian now house-bound with AIDS. He doesn't really have all that much contact with Alfred, but the dying man does make him aware of his own mortality and that life can be a matter not of regretting what you have done but what you haven't done.
Then there's the ambitious colleague (Gina Gershon) who his warmly paternal boss (Sam Coppola) has ordered him to get along with but whom he inadvertently insults, with serious consequences. Most important, however, is his chance meeting with Cyan (Cedella Marley), a lovely young Jamaican working as a waitress to put herself through nursing school. Much to his shock he finds himself falling in love with her just at the point that she wants to back off, dead certain of her own career goals and feeling that he really doesn't know who he is.
For all the fun Starr has with the inside show-biz tactics and strategies, he confronts, via Joey, all workaholics by questioning values and priorities. Starr, a former William Morris agent, is clearly a man who has thought through what's important to him, and this quest informs his entire film.
In its modest and engaging way "Joey Breaker" challenges the way so many of us live our lives. In the course of the film he manages to present his show-business types as real people, hard-driving and ruthlessly competitive but not the usual stereotypical barracudas. He also reveals how AIDS has affected the entertainment industry in ways that might not occur to us: He maps out a TV career for a promising client, Hip Hop Hank (Erik King) only to discover that the man, an ex-con, is terrified of taking a standard insurance exam because of what it might disclose about his HIV status.
Starr is to be congratulated for filling the screen with smart people who speak intelligently and for the ensemble performances he draws from his cast. Marley is appealing in her film debut, and the role of Joey shows that Edson, in his biggest screen role to date, has what it takes to carry a picture; also notable, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Joey's sharp, eager assistant.
As solid as it is, "Joey Breaker" (rated R for language) not surprisingly bears the marks of a debut feature. Granted that this is a New York movie, which means it's going to be highly verbal, but even so it tends to get bogged down with too much trade talk in its first third or so. Also, Joey's entire odyssey could have been more fully developed and contained a bit of foreshadowing. Nevertheless, "Joey Breaker," which features Bob Marley songs and a reggae score, possesses a welcome and engaging substance along with its humor.
Richard Edson: Joey Breaker
Cedella Marley: Cyan Worthington
Fred Fondren: Alfred Moore
Erik King: Hip Hop Hank
A Skouras Pictures presentation. Writer-Director Steven Starr. Producer Amos Poe, Starr. Cinematographer Joe DeSalvo. Editor Michael Schweitzer. Costumes Jessica Haston. Music Paul Aston. Production design Jocelyne Beaudoin. Art director Noemi Di Corcia. Set dressers Monica Bretherton, Philip J. Clarke. Sound designer Janet Lund Robbins. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.
MPAA-rated R (for language).