Emilio Estevez, the prince of persistence, is back with his eighth film, of which “The Way” and “Bobby” are the only two I’ve seen and kind of liked.

Now he brings us “The Public,” a comedy drama about homelessness, hopeless dreamers, and featuring the “have-some” and the “have-nots,” and a few heroes sent by a busy God to stem the crying.

This is the street that the wonderful Frank Capra gave us in the 30s with his “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” and “You Can’t Take it With You.” Now in these scary times, we can walk there again.

“The Public” is set in in the winter during an arctic blast that enveloped America and Stuart Goodson’s Cincinnati. 

The action takes place in that city’s warm and cozy downtown three-storied main public library where Emilio, as Stuart Goodson, is the branch manager.

The plot forms itself around a huge band of homeless citizens of many colors, mostly black but sprinkled with whites, semi whites, Asians and Hispanics, some mentally ill, some on the doorstep of death, who wait each morning for Gordon to open the doors to this warm oven of love. 

Once inside, they spend the next 12 hours avoiding reality by reading, using the computers for playful phony dating services, sharing dreams, plots, visions, hallucinations and humor.

Chief librarian Stuart Goodson is a loner off duty, and a pleasant get-along guy at work, where the homeless love and respect him. Stuart has a secret past that defines him. It will pop in when it’s time.

Off duty, Stuart lives a disciplined life in a clean, small apartment where he raises tomatoes and herbs in his kitchen, and chats with a lovely recovering alcoholic blonde (Taylor Schilling) working off her rent by managing the building. 

Taylor has an immediate love scene with Stuart, and then she disappears until the finale, when she steps in to cleverly utilize some social media magic when push comes to shove.

Outside the temperatures are sitting at 10 and 20 below, and the frozen bodies of those who sleep on the streets are overloading the morgue. Don’t leave. This is Capra land. Things get impossibly better in a push and shove moment.

Push comes at closing time when the great unwashed are told to leave, and they decide they’ve had enough and refuse to budge.

Shove comes when the police followed by the media arrive, and a standoff hits the evening news. It looks bleak. Stand fast. I repeat, this is Capra country. A big closing number is coming.

Emilio wisely sprinkles the screen with a small collection of well known expert scene stealing character actors: the terrific Michael Kenneth Williams, the brilliant Jeffery Wright, Gabrielle Union and lo and behold, the formidable Alec Baldwin on loan from Saturday Night Live, as a detective searching for his addict son.

Emilio himself embodies the Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper images, ancient icons we can count on to save the day. 

Capra always had a villain, and Emilio gives us the dependable Christian Slater as the ultimate sleaze bag urban villain, who manipulates the explosive situation for political gain.

In building his structure, director Emilio sprinkles comic and tragic snapshots of the lost who surround him like confetti. We get one of each, and all are lots of fun.

The timing of the release of “The Public” is in itself Capra-esque. Capra brought light to the darkness of the Depression; Emilio brings the same glow to the political climate change today.

It’s hokey, yes, as was “Can’t Take It With You,” but with the same feel good sweetness. We all need to laugh so we can stop crying.


J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and screen actor.

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