Short-money hustler Joe May (Dennis Farina) always believed he had a glorious future ahead of him, despite all evidence to the contrary. Released from the hospital after a long battle with pneumonia, Joe is forced to confront the harsh reality of his legacy: everyone he knew had assumed he was dead, and life had gone on around him without missing a beat. Returning to his old Chicago neighborhood, he finds his car gone, all his worldly possessions pawned by his landlord, and the apartment he’s lived in his entire adult life rented out to a single mother named Jenny and her eight year-old daughter. After flirting with homelessness, Joe reluctantly moves in with the new tenants of his home – at least until he is able to get back on his feet.
Even as Joe doggedly pursues his comeback, he finds the odds stacked drastically against him. His health continues to deteriorate, he gets no respect from the local mob boss, and his best friend & former partner-in-crime has moved into an assisted living facility. Throughout this ordeal, Joe’s one lifeline is his burgeoning friendship with his new co-tenants. So when things turn ugly between Jenny and her boyfriend – a crooked detective with a penchant for domestic violence – Joe is determined to take a stand for his unlikely new family, and perhaps take one last shot at redefining his legacy.
Director's Statement Collapse
I can't say specifically where the idea came from that inspired The Last Rites of Joe May. That said, there are three things I know for sure.
First, I began thinking somewhat vaguely about a Joe May kind of character shortly after breaking up with a girl who, in one especially painful moment of the whole extrication process, announced quite coolly and confidently that I would very likely die a broken and lonely old man. This was nearly 20 years prior to writing the screenplay for The Last Rites of Joe May, but her words stuck with me, embedded somewhere in my prefrontal cortex, and over the years I would have many painful imaginings about how her awful prophecy might one day come true, quite a few of which made it onto the screen in Joe's words and deeds.
I am also a big Vittorio De Sica fan, and I began writing more specific notes for The Last Rites of Joe May shortly after seeing Umberto D for the first time. I'd already made three feature films, but was struggling mightily to pay the rent and keep myself fed. The hero of De Sica's film had worked hard his entire life and now, in his retirement, when all he wanted was a warm place to sleep, a little food for himself and his dog, and perhaps a kind word now and then from an old acquaintance—somehow, even this was too much to ask for. During long bouts of self-pity, locked away in my apartment, skillfully avoiding the landlord, I found myself thinking of poor Umberto and how, like him, I seemed thoroughly ill-equipped to survive, let alone succeed.
Finally, and at the risk of turning too publicly confessional, there is quite a lot of my maternal grandfather and his sons in Joe May. The endless optimism in the face of overwhelming odds, the swagger, a few sartorial touches, and most importantly the strict adherence to a code of conduct which, just a generation ago, outlined in precise terms what it meant to be a man. You always pay your debts. You never let anyone know when you're down and out, and no matter how bad things get you keep your shoes shined, your pants pressed and your hair trimmed. If you can't afford to leave a tip, don't go into the bar. You wait your turn, with patience and fortitude, because better days will come, eventually. Joe's trouble isn't that he fails to live up to this code, it's that the world has changed to such a degree that in obeying these rules Joe is, in a sense, holding devalued currency. In this way I suppose The Last Rites of Joe May is an effort to redeem those men and their ideals, flawed though they may be. And Joe May is nothing if not flawed. I hope that you love him anyway.
About the Director(s)Collapse
JOE MAGGIO is the award-winning writer/director of five other feature films: Virgil Bliss (2001), Milk + Honey (2003), Paper Covers Rock (2008), Euphoria (2009), and Bitter Feast (2010). His work has screened widely at film festivals including Tribeca, Sundance, and SXSW. In 2002 he was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards.