When a 75-year-old man takes on the responsibility of raising his six-year-old grandson, you never think that Roommates, the 108-minute film you are about to watch, will take you 30 years into the future, showing the highs and lows that most families and some roommates experience. A few minutes into the film, you know by the tragedies that have occurred that this scared little boy and his no-nonsense grandfather are the types of characters that make good movies work.

Roommates is a tug-at-your-heartstrings kind of film. The story begins with a grandfather telling his grandson that he loves him. He doesn’t come out and say that he loves him, but you are fairly sure that the child got the message. The film deals with a 40-year relationship between Peter Falk’s character Rocky Holzcek and D.B. Sweeney’s character Michael Holzeck. That Rocky loves his grandson is obvious, but Michael’s coming around to his granddad’s belief that family always comes first is a work in progress.  This film shows the great and difficult sides of life. People die, sometimes children have to live with people that aren’t their parents, slowly you become a family, some things you can’t rush, grand kids don’t always do what you want them to do, and granddads can’t always be understood. But they are always family.

Rocky, the character that Peter Falk plays, comes across as real. This politically-incorrect Polish immigrant with a strong work ethic and equally as strong feelings about what he thinks is right and wrong. is the heart of the movie.

Pittsburgh is a great city to use as a backdrop for a story about a tough Polish guy who never lost his desire to be involved with family and his need to work, even after celebrating his 90th birthday. I’ve known a couple of people from Pittsburgh who worked while approaching their 90th birthday. They weren’t all Polish, but they were all tough. The average person doesn’t plan on working forever; Rocky Holzcek isn’t an average person.

Besides a couple views of the city and a look at Polish Hill from a few angles, I didn’t pay much attention to exactly where the scenes in Pittsburgh were shot. The film is driven by the story, not the city.

Strong performances were delivered by D.B. Sweeney, Julianne Moore, and Ellen Burstyn. Usually stars hate to share the stage with dogs and kids because they just don’t have a chance. I bet a few stars felt that way after sharing scenes with Peter Falk’s character, Rocky. They just didn’t have a chance.

Filmed in 1995.

Directed by Peter Yates.

Max Apple, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote the 1994 biography, Roommates: My Grandfather’s Story and the movie was based on his grandfather’s story. Apple also wrote the screenplay for the film; Max’s grandfather must be very proud.

By: Tom Pollard