Dir: Raymond DeFelitta. USA. 1999. 104 mins.

Prod Co: Filbert Steps. Prods: Anne Harrison, Alan Klingstein. Exec prods: Jim Kohlberg, Adam Brightman. Scr: Raymond DeFelitta. DoP: Michael Mayers. Prod des: Teresa Mastropierro. Ed: David Leonard. Mus: Stephen Endelman. Main cast: Michael Rispoli, Kelly Macdonald, Katherine Narducci, Kevin Conway, Matt Servitto.

If small-scale human interest dramas are out of fashion then somebody forgot to tell the makers of this persuasive little heart-warmer. Inspired by a hidden chapter of his family history, writer-director Raymond De Felitta has devised a warmly observed slice of life reflecting the difficulties of pursuing the American Dream in the Eisenhower era. Lacking the drawing power of star names or offbeat material, it seems likely to be lost in the shuffle of higher profile ventures. Those audiences who do discover it, may still respond to its bittersweet nostalgia and adroit performances.

In a 'change-of-pace' role, Michael Rispoli is the perennial dreamer and frustrated crooner who regrets the loss of his one shot at the big time. His wife has grown accustomed to the failure of his calamitous business venture and scorns his latest notion of purchasing a two family house and transforming the lower floor into Buddy's Tavern.

Inheriting a drunken Irishman and his pregnant wife who refuse to vacate the premises, Buddy is driven to desperate measures. When the child is revealed to be black and the husband disappears, Buddy takes pity on the woman. Offering the hand of compassion begins a friendship that is to change Buddy's life and reveal his nearest and dearest in their true colours.

Backed by a perceptive, well-written script, Rispoli is able to create a fully-rounded portrait of a decent man struggling to follow his finer instincts. Kelly Macdonald has one of her better roles as the fellow outsider who recognises a better man than Buddy's wife will ever know. Together, they provide the believable centre of an affectionate salute to all of life's tender-hearted dreamers.