If you’ve ever seen one of those cool maps of Chicago where every community from Kenwood to Logan Square to Uptown is demarcated and numbered, Rogers Park is the squared-off area WAY up top.
Even though it’s so far up there (especially to someone such as myself who grew up in the south suburbs), Rogers Park has a distinct identity as a very “Chicago” neighborhood. Home to Loyola University. A racially diverse population. A community that seems more involved than most in its future. The lapping waves of Lake Michigan as a constant backdrop.
Even if you’ve never set foot in the neighborhood or even heard of it, “Rogers Park” the movie has such a comfortably “lived-in” feel, such an authentic vibe, you’ll feel as if you’re eavesdropping on the complicated and messy and sometimes heartbreaking and occasionally mildly absurd lives of the deeply flawed but mostly sympathetic early middle-aged characters at the center of the story.
At times you might feel the urge to cover your ears and look the other way so you’re NOT tuning into the painfully raw truths they’re hurling at one another, but at the same time you’re thinking: Ouch. Been there, said that.
Director Kyle Henry, screenwriter Carlos Treviño and a wonderfully talented ensemble cast deliver a 21st century relationship time capsule of Rogers Park and some of the people who call it home — but this tightly scripted, dialogue-driven character study is also brimming with universal truths about the long-hidden but nevertheless permanent bruises of family tragedies, the changing and sometimes numbing nature of even a truly loving long-term relationship and the slow death of knowing one’s dreams are almost certainly defunct.
Not that you’ll be constantly pummeled by this story — not at all. It also has moments of humor and warmth and insight and hope.
“Rogers Park” centers on two couples:
• Zeke (Second City alum Antoine McKay of “Empire” and “Sense8”) and Grace (Sara Sevigny, a Chicago theater veteran who also has been on “Empire”), whose seemingly stable marriage is beginning to show some serious cracks as they face a mounting financial crisis (and the overall ennui that builds up when two people say “good night” and “good morning” to one another hundreds and then thousands of times).
“Maybe you should get a job that pays something,” says Zeke (a Realtor) to Grace, who runs a preschool.
“Maybe I should get a husband that knows how to balance a checkbook!” shoots back Grace.
• Deena (Christine Horn, “Ray Donovan,” “American Crime Story”), a poli-sci teacher and community coordinator whose passion for life (and for, um, passion) isn’t always matched by Grace’s brother Chris (Jonny Mars, “A Ghost Story,” “Joe”), who for a brief moment had a promising career as a writer but now works at a library and laments what might have been. Chris and Deena are now experimenting with “an open relationship,” and one can imagine how that’s working out.
Both couples are interracial, but while “Rogers Park” doesn’t present their world as a colorblind Nirvana, the primary issues here are about relationships, not race.
Everyone in the room is smart, and yes, they enjoy craft beer and a nice wine, and they play “Rogers Parkopoly” instead of mere Monopoly on game night, but they’re not pretentious or affected.
Everything cruises along at an intriguing but relatively low-key pace, until an intense, long, powerful extended sequence in which all four characters let loose with unfiltered honesty and anger. It’s the kind of moment that will have an audience holding its collective breath.
Filmed in and around the titular neighborhood, with the seasons changing as these lives change, “Rogers Park” is poetic and lovely and muscular and unforgiving at the same time, much like the area itself and the city as a whole.
AOK Productions presents a film directed by Kyle Henry and written by Carlos Treviño. No MPAA rating. Running time: 87 minutes. Opens Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center, with Henry and Treviño participating in discussions at all screenings.