Heather and Jimmy strike up an acquaintance in the bus station waiting room.
Getting To Know You focuses on three teenagers waiting in a bus terminal in a small town in upstate New York. Judith McIntyre (Heather Matarazzo) and her older brother Wesley (Zach Braff) have just come from trying to visit with their non-cognizant mother Trix (Bebe Neuwirth) in a mental hospital and also discover that their father Darrell (Mark Blum) has completely abandoned them, refusing to even talk to Judith on the telephone. To top off their bad day, they discover that Judith’s bus which will take her back to the foster home where she now will be living won’t be departing for over five hours. Even though Wesley could leave on the hour to his destination, the University of Rochester, where he will be entering as a freshman on a full scholarship, he doesn’t want to leave her by herself at the station, so the two sit down in the waiting room. The third teenager is Jimmy (Michael Weston) a young street-smart drifter who sees Judith waiting around and strikes up an acquaintance with her.
Wesley and Heather walk in on an affair that Trix is having with another man.
To pass the time, Jimmy begins to tell Judith the real (or imagined?) life stories of some of the other waiting passengers at the station. These stories about seemingly routine people turn out to be fascinating, full of interesting characters and situations. Each story has some ironic humor laced in with a lot of sadness, and through their discussions about the characters both Judith and Jimmy reveal something about themselves. The first story is about Officer Caminetto (Bo Hopkins), the bus station security guard, who left the police force after his partner was unnecessarily killed while they were picking up a computer at a pawn shop. A second story was about Irene (Tristine Skyler) who meets a gambler named Sonny (Chris Noth) in Atlantic City and it’s love at first sight. She becomes his lucky charm and he wins $75,000 at the craps tables. Back in his high roller suite, Sonny promises her that he will take her back to Oklahoma and build her a dream house. But Sonny’s overwhelming desire to be at the tables draws him back to the casino, and he quickly loses all of his money. Their love at first sight ends up being love for one night. A third story is about Leila Lee (Mary McCormack) who impulsively marries burley widower Lamar Pike (Leo Burmester). Quickly she learns that he is an abusive father to Lamar, Jr. (Jacob Reynolds) his skinny son who escapes from the sad reality of his situation by passively accepting his fate on the surface, while living in a fantasy world of drawings and repressed emotions. Things come to a head when Lamar Senior insists that Junior chop wood after school every day.
Wesley and Heather discuss what to do about their family situation.
But things are not what they seem with Jimmy either. Although he claims to be a trombonist in a rock band on his way to New York City, Officer Caminetti tells Judith that he is just a local high school dropout who spends his days at the bus station. And Wesley becomes concerned because Judith is spending so much time with a total stranger and starting to reveal things about their family breakup. When he questions Judith as to why she is talking about these things, she replies “because you never talk about them.” This leads to the final stories about the McIntyre family which are told in a series of flashbacks. Trix and Darrell were two fine ballroom dancers with budding careers, but they never made it in show business. Although they married and had Judith and Wesley, they could never adapt to the world outside of show business, and gradually their relationship deteriorated, falling victim to periods of heavy drinking and abusive behavior. As the family drifted from town to town and job to job, Wesley and Judith became the stabilizing force in the family. Wesley buried himself in his studies, determined to become a doctor, while Judith was the emotional anchor, trying to keep the family together somehow. As the flashbacks continue, more is revealed about the emotional instability of the McIntyre family and also Jimmy is persuaded to reveal the truth about himself. You need to see to film to get the full impact of this, as the three teenagers reveal much of the hurt and shame that they have experienced in their lives. They must decide whether to trust each other, or whether to fall back into their routines of denial.
Heather follows after her father to see what he is up to.
Getting to Know You is a precisely drawn character study, revealing again that continual action and special effects are not necessary when there is good writing. Based on three short stories by Joyce Carol Oates, the screenplay by director Lisanne Skyler with assistance from her sister Tristine is engaging and revealing without being overly sentimental. The brilliance of Oates’ writing is well preserved here, as the ensemble of actors give finely honed performances that reveal much about life as seen through ordinary, down on their luck, people — the type you would observe at a bus station. Of special note are the performances of Heather Matarazzo and Michael Weston. Matarazzo doesn’t look like a Hollywood starlet, but there is an inner glow and reality to her performance that is very compelling. Michael Weston turns out to be a great storyteller in this film, and by its end, he has built up a convincing rapport with Matarazzo and the audience. Getting To Know You was first presented on the Sundance Channel and then given a limited theatrical release. On video it was made available through Blockbuster and is only available currently on VHS video in limited quantity. It’s too bad that a film of this quality isn’t available on DVD and in more of a general release, especially when there are so many of lesser quality readily available.
As Heather boards the bus, she thinks back on all of the things revealed that day.
Heather goes to pick up a can she dropped.
Heather Matarazzo in her role as Judith, wears navy blue low cut chucks throughout the film. There are not many full length or close up shots in the cinemaphotography, but the best ones are when she is with Jimmy in the bus station.
As the afternoon passes, Heather’s and Jimmy’s friendship begins to deepen.
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