It pays to be friends with the boys in the ‘hood. That’s a lesson both Carmela Soprano and Edie Falco know well. The latest reward from Falco’s 16-year friendship with fellow Long Islander Eric Mendelsohn is the starring role in his directorial debut feature Judy Berlin—the ultimate evolution of the ”senior movie” Mendelsohn filmed (and Falco starred in) 13 years ago at the State University of New York-Purchase. Berlin, which was shot in 30 days and cost under $200,000, nabbed a Best Director’s prize at Sundance last winter and has been winning a series of other film festival awards ever since (it opens in limited release Feb. 25).
A comic ode to Mendelsohn and Falco’s home turf, Berlin takes place over one solar-eclipsed afternoon, in which Falco’s Judy, a giddily optimistic actress, runs into a morose filmmaker she knew in high school and they chat away the hours before her imminent departure for L.A. The film also features deadpan turns by Anne Meara and Julie Kavner, and a tour de force performance by the late Madeline Kahn, who plays a neurotic housewife.
Although Falco, 36, and Mendelsohn, 35, grew up two towns apart — and even attended the same summer camp — they didn’t meet until college. Postgraduation, they both moved to New York City, nurtured each other during their dues-paying days (he spent eight years working as an assistant costume designer on Woody Allen’s movies; she waitressed between acting gigs), and met almost every day for breakfast. She’s his occasional muse, and he, in turn, inspires her. ”There’s no one he can’t talk to,” she explains. ”No one whose language he doesn’t speak.”
”The fun thing about working and being friends with Edie,” sums up Eric, ”is we can go to Sundance and Cannes, and all these people are toasting the film and we can look at each other across a crowded room and laugh our heads off. As many canapes as they are trying to shove down our throats, we always know we’re from a place that doesn’t even know what the word canape means. It’s nice to have someone along for the ride.”