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REVIEW: Once Upon a Time in Queens Features Mob Dad Coming to Terms with Adult Lesbian Daughter

REVIEW: Once Upon a Time in Queens Features Mob Dad Coming to Terms with Lesbian Daughter

REVIEW: Once Upon a Time in Queens Features Mob Dad Coming to Terms with Lesbian Daughter

A mob boss released from prison after 20 years deals in part with learning that his daughter is a lesbian.

When a former mob boss is released from prison after twenty years, he struggles with life on the outside, discovering time has altered more than just his appearance and health. Once Upon a Time in Queens tells the story of incarcerated mafia don Mr. Joe (Paul Sorvino), who is released from prison for his depleting health, a heart issue that only seems to be getting worse. He learns his status as a crime boss is no longer possible, with the FBI increasing vigilance on organized crime. Perhaps more shocking to him, Joe learns his 43-year-old daughter is gay.

Once Upon a Time in Queens focuses on the friendship between Joe and his younger neighbor, Bobby – played by Michael Rappaport – a fellow Sicilian-American, who has managed to avoid the mob life as a deli owner and family man. Bobby waxes poetic about Joe the mobster throughout the film. While a life of crime may not appeal to him as a man, Bobby admits his boyhood memory of Joe’s lifestyle was appealing. Still, the parameters of Bobby’s mafia involvement and Joe’s expectations of Bobby are blurred and sometimes contradicted, leading to a flawed script that even these talented veteran actors struggle to carry.

The relationship between Joe and his gay daughter, Rita (Renee Props), evolves a bit more organically, thanks again to the acting chops of the respective actors. The father daughter are close, or as close as two people who have been separated by steel bars for 20 years can be, despite Joe’s inability to express his affection for his daughter. However, the relationship is offset when Rita comes out to Joe, prompting him to call her and her girlfriend “dykes,” and continue to use that word more freely than a repetitive toddler who just heard it for the first time.

Their relationship fluctuates for the rest of the film, sometimes organically and sometimes with a hint of humor. Rita’s confidence and candor about her sexuality, portrayed admirably by Props, is often underscored by the inherent homophobia of old school Italian-Americans. However, Joe’s personal evolution parallels his ability to come to terms with his daughter’s sexuality.

The film gives a new perspective to the mob story, focusing more on the family drama than the ever dwindling presence of the Italian mob in New York. “If one old school parent sees this film and in turn, their heart is softened and they begin their journey to love their gay child unconditionally, then this story-telling has fulfilled its purpose," Props tells Curve. While you shouldn’t expect to see Joe waving any gay pride flags by the film’s end, he is able to alter his perspective. He seems to retain a heteronormative attitude towards gay relationships, but his love for his daughter ultimately proves unwavering.

Once Upon a Time in Queens is now available on VOD, DVD, and iTunes.





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Annie Hollenbeck