SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Wakefield native and South Kingstown High School graduate James Walsh will soon bring home a new movie he created about a family embracing a difficult past with acceptance that opens an unexpected future.
Walsh, an actor and director, filmed the movie “Jimmy and Carolyn” in Westerly where he now lives and based it on a real-life encounter in his own family one Labor Day weekend.
“The movie captures a break-through event that becomes the crucible for who we became,” Walsh said in an interview about the film that will be shown at the South County Luxury Cinemas on Monday.
“Jimmy and Carolyn” is first and foremost a family comedy-drama that examines the struggles of a long-term gay relationship within the framework of the traditional American family that developed during the Post-World War II era in the United States.
The film also examines the LGBTQ immigrant experience as reflected in the relationship of James and his partner William, who comes to terms with the sacrifices he’s made to live the American Dream as a Latino man in an openly gay relationship.
This unfolds with a visit from James’s father — Jimmy — and his mother, Carolyn.
On a whim, to celebrate Jimmy’s 75th birthday on Labor Day, Jimmy and Carolyn decide to drive up from Florida to Westerly to surprise their son, James, and his partner, William, a landscaper from Costa Rica.
The bigger surprise that awaits them is the emotional crisis threatening to destroy James and William’s 20-year relationship.
This is linked to issues arising for the parents returning home to New England. The visit triggers painful memories and crushing regrets for Jimmy and Carolyn.
The movie draws out darker truths between the Pinot Grigio and the pepperoni loaf as all four struggle with the past and the now-or-never choices they face if they are to remain a family because they don’t get to choose who loves each other the most.
Moments of decision, of mental reconciliation and awareness, and insight and forgiveness, come to many families in the course of unexpected, but revealing spontaneous moments that arrive in any number of ways.
It brought some memories of a close friend in Rhode Island who is a traditional Irish Catholic male in the building trades and loves his Rhode Island style of “take it or leave it” machismo.
Then one day, he learned his only son was gay. It became a moment of culture clash, understanding generational boundary setting and how love would later take him over those boundaries.
Walsh says quite readily that life in Rhode Island, especially South Kingstown, helped to frame some of his family’s experiences portrayed as also did their perspectives separated across generations interpreting life differently.
“I am as hard on myself as I am on them in this portrayal,” he said.
For the 1981 South Kingstown High School graduate, it is also a creative opportunity — through skills and take-always from success in the West Coast, East Coast and New York theater and movie environments — to reconcile his past.
“I know that to have this movie is a love letter to my past,” said.
Walsh also created and directed the recently-released movie “The Extinction of Fireflies.” It’s a contemporary comedy loosely based on the epic romance of Roman Emperor Hadrian and his teenage lover Antinous.
A group of friends gathers at a remote seaside home (based on Walsh’s in Westerly’s Shelter Harbor) for a long weekend.
Playwright James (Drew Droege) invites them to help pull together this play. Their various personalities create, as one reviewer said, a “dialogue that is of a catty, gossipy nature, crocheted rather than constructed; it’s by getting caught up in the verbal torrent that we get a sense for the characters and the dynamics between them.”
It, too, harkens back to his hometown.
“South County is an incredible place and both movies were inspired by my life in South County,” he said.
“It all still feels like the place I grew up in. There is no sadness or regret that it has changed. Actors love coming here to make movies because it has some many wonderful attractions and a unique environment,” Walsh said.
“Jimmy and Carolyn” has two-time Tony nominee and TV/Broadway star Mary Beth Peil (Dawson’s Creek, The Good Wife, Halston, Broadway’s Anastasia) and TV/Broadway actor Gregory Harrison (911, Chesapeake Shores, Trapper John M.D.).
Mark H. Dold (The Inheritance) and Alberto Bonilla (Marvin’s Room) complete the cast. The executive producer is Kimberly Chesser for Rhode Trip Pictures.
The film features the original song for the film “Forgiveness’s Embrace” with music and lyrics by multi-platinum Oscar, Grammy, Emmy and Tony winner Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked,” “Pippin,” “Godspell,” “Enchanted,” “The Prince of Egypt”), performed by Julie Garnyé and Schwartz.