Movies that tread on unfamiliar filmmaker turf, whether delving into other cultures or social classes closer to home, tend to just not get it. And in the case of movies about struggling working stiffs, especially nonwhites and immigrants, the narrow spectrum more likely veers between stereotypical saints and sinners.
And until the technical moviemaking tools and their familiarity are readily available to the bottom of the food chain folks these films are about, any improvement in their social and cultural representations is in doubt. Though strides in user friendly means to that end may soon be at hand, with growing active mass access to digital revolution creativity.
Until then, it’s truly fortunate that directors like Sean Baker and his stunning Prince of Broadway exist, who don’t see the economically and racially diverse world before them in mere black and white, however well meaning, or as personalities stripped of their surrounding historical moment. But rather a complex and more difficult to depict social palette unraveling before their eyes in multiple shades of gray. And characters incorporating both saint and sinner, as we all do.
Following his devastating dramatic portrait of an exploited undocumented Chinese deliver man in Take Out, Baker switches focus to African illegals hustling for a meager subsistence in the black market bustling wholesale fashion section of Manhattan, in the downtown shadow of the garment district. More than just an insular spotlight on a particular immigrant community, Baker as with Take Out, spins a contentious emotional interactive collage that is a microcosm of humanity, as the restless ethnic communities that define New York City butt heads, while negotiating that problematic journey of daily survival.
Prince Adu is Lucky – and anything but – a boisterous young illegal from Ghana who finds a job of sorts hustling strangers on the street, and luring them into the back room of a store to buy fake designer footwear and clothing. The business is owned by Levon (Karren Karagulian), a friendly, prosperous street smart Armenian-Lebanese shopkeeper and himself an immigrant, who has entered into a green card marriage with a much younger woman where he traumatically mistakes a financial transaction for love.
Relatively comfortable with his bare bones existence as he optimistically stashes away his meager wages for a future education and gets involved with a loving girlfriend, Lucky finds himself a sudden supposed baby daddy when a Puerto Rican teen he barely remembers (Kat Sanchez), dumps her rowdy toddler (Aiden Noesi) on his doorstep and disappears. The scenes between this freaked out free spirit with a serious allergy to fatherhood and that irresistible miniature menace without an apparent name and seemingly determined to make his life as miserable as possible, are a bittersweet joy to behold. As is their fractured bond barely holding together amidst betrayals, police raids, and repugnant diaper duty. And a frantic, radically nontraditional ghetto notion of family, where DNA concepts in the end hardly seem to matter. Or as the painfully ambivalent Lucky puts it, ‘I didn’t want to give him up because my father was always there for me, and I put him through hell.’
Prince Of Broadway spins a gritty, soulful tale touching on the American Dream that self-destructs more as callous fantasy than anything else, among the have-nots. And could not feel more real, simply because Baker as an outsider allows his actors to spontaneously portray themselves, as to how and what they have to say. Rather than any preconceived idea that this what’s-on-your-mind not mine director, might have mistakenly imagined them to be.
Elephant Eye Films
4 [out of 4] stars