This is Joe's most dramatic performance. In his writing, producing and directorial debut, he takes on his parents roles after their tragic deaths on 9/11. With his brother refusing to go to school and his sister ruining off with her worthless boy friend hording their late parents checks for her drug habit. The half hour drama shows the different ways we deal with death, possibly in a shockingly realistic (which most movies fail at) way, such as the 4 or 5 F-words. Mazzello starts out with a seemingly laid-back and quiet demeanor. Then he becomes very strong willed and austere, like when his brother won't get off the couch and go to school and shows disrespect for their father. Mazzello was more intense, strong willed and emotional than I have ever seen. Even at 22 years old when it was filmed last year, Joe still cries hard and convincing in the scence near the end where he replays the conversation on the phone with his parents during the hijack. This is the most hard-hitting drama Mazzello has ever starred in, though it is a short film.
Matters of Life and Death (2007)
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A Moving and Inspiring Directorial Debut
11 April 2007
Joseph Mazzello has made an accomplished debut as a writer-director with this 30-minute short on the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy. The film was made pretty much on a shoestring (with most of the financing coming from members of Mazzello's fan club), but the result is quite impressive. It was clearly a labor of heartfelt love, and resonates with emotion. The tale of how three siblings react to the sudden deaths of their parents could easily have made for a maudlin film. Yet, Mazzello's care with his actors and the understated tone he imparts to the production result in a moving, inspirational effort. The performances of Rachel Leigh Cook and Nick Heyman as two of the siblings and Gwen Van Dam as the grandmother are fine and brimming with honesty, and David Strathairn puts in a warm cameo in a flashback as the father. Most essential to the success of this film is the performance of Joseph Mazzello himself as the brother and son who holds the family together. He shows an impressive range in his reactions to his plight, running the gamut from weary resignation to rage to hopeful determination. In this, he confirms the talent he displayed as a child star, and surpasses his previous work. And he shows great promise as both a writer and director. Though focusing on the situation of one particular family, Mazzello presents observations and comfort to a nation that is still grieving over a shared catastrophe. It's quite an achievement for a 23-year-old, and hopefully the beginning of a storied career along the lines of his fellow red-headed ex-child star Ron Howard.