There’s something about the average Joe archetype rising to the occasion to defy the odds that resonates with audiences. It’s a time-tested formula probably done to death by this point. Yet writer, director and star Brian Silverman deftly guides his characters as their lives reach a crossroads in the feature film Two Lives In Pittsburgh.
Set in the rough neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, Bernie’s (Brian Silverman) blue-collar lifestyle is on the cusp of collapse as he treats his ailing, terminally ill mother and, perhaps most challenging of all, his child Maddie (Emma Basques), who is questioning their gender identity in an environment that is not known for acceptance. Needless to say, the stakes are incredibly high, leaving Bernie to not only question the future of his family but also reflect on its complicated past.
Circumstances don’t really get any more difficult. Prejudice and prejudgement are commonplace amongst Bernie’s community and close-knit group of friends, making the revelation about Maddie that much more difficult to process. It all piles up relatively quickly. His mother was soldiering on, getting weaker by the day. A potential girlfriend, Theresa (Delissa Reynolds), whose race is called into question by the locals. Before long, Bernie can no longer delay facing each and every challenge head-on. The choices he has to make seem rather apparent when viewed through a progressive 21st century lens, but circumstances and attitudes that have stuck with Bernie since his childhood give him pause.
Silverman’s screenplay gives his character time to soul-search amidst this great change, and the performance flourishes because of it. At the end of the day, this is a man who wants to do the right thing but has valid reasons to fear a less-than-favorable outcome for each decision he makes. The cast overall is terrific, with Emma Basques stealing the show in earnest alongside Annie O’Donnell’s Carla. However, if there was one star that truly stands out, it’s Pittsburgh itself.
The city is what ties this feature together. Call it the beating heart of what is, in essence, a love letter to a location by its director. From its unique dialect to the people that inhabit it, few indie films can claim authenticity to this degree. Silverman is clearly drawing on his own experiences and exercising extreme reverence for a place he knows both inside and out. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say each frame is a tribute of sorts. It presents itself as a place with one foot still planted in the “good old days” while the other is primed to explore change. And one family’s story shows how this venture can be overcome with understanding and love.