The 2008 Los Angeles Film Festival Review - Prince of Broadway

The cool thing about film festivals is that at any given moment, a good film could find and entertain an unsuspecting audience. 

The 2008 Los Angeles Film Festival is in full swing!

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"It's a hard knock-off life."

Prince of Broadway is the story of three lost couples set in New York City’s wholesale district in the dead of winter. We have Levon (Karren Karagulian), the Lebanese immigrant shopkeeper who runs a legit business up front and sells knock off items in the back. Forty-something Levon struggles to keep his loveless marriage from falling apart, even though he is the one that’s still in love with 20something wife Nadia (Victoria Tate).

Next we have Lucky (Prince Adu), the Ghanaian hustler who shepherds rich clientele off the streets and into the aforementioned backroom. He has a girlfriend, Karina (Keyali Mayaga) and a stash and his eye on school when he has enough money. He’s good at what he does and well liked around the way. And last but not least, we have the little 16-month-old baby Prince (Aiden Noesi) – finally named more than half way into the movie - who meets his father for the first time. Young selfish Latina mom Linda (Kat Sanchez) informs Lucky that he has a son on the day that she decides she needs a break from her mother, her life, everything; and that includes Little Prince.

Prince Adu (r.) & Aiden Noesi (l.) in "Prince of Broadway"

So what is a poor Ghanaian hustler to do but freak out. Baby? He lives in a dump. He can’t go to work. He as no flippin’ clue what to do with this baby – that may not even be his! What is a poor shopkeeper to do but just not let go, no matter how his fed-up wife pushes him away. By the end of the film, both men begin to take steps towards an uneasy peace with their circumstances.

Adu’s performance as Lucky was visceral and honest and heartwarming; in moments of desperation and anguish, in both comic and tragic situations. Aiden Noesi is a kid with charisma. He is not just one of those babies that looks for his mother standing off camera. If he is, credos to the editor at chosing all the right moments, but I’m thinking he may be one to watch. Karagulian’s performance is filled with strength, vulnerability and integrity; well, as much as you can have for a guy who runs a crooked business. Overall, the cast was an impressive ensemble. Well done.

One of my favorite elements of the film was friendship between Lucky and Levon. The two are not just employer and employee. At a money moment early in the film, I was working myself up for the whole “Sal/Mookie” Dynamic (Do The Right Thing). But surprise, they actually empathize with each other, they listen and they both understand that business is business. There were a few opportunities where the nature of their business would compromise their friendship. Thankfully the filmmaker didn’t go there; rightly so, because that would have been way too easy.

Hustling...

There are lots of great things about this film: the handheld guerilla-style shooting gives the piece a perfectly tuned fly-on-the-wall documentary feel. The rawness of the streets and the rundown apartments, you can feel the cold and smell the mildrew on the walls. I loved the spontaneous, organic play between the performer and it makes total sense to me when I read in the credits that this script was developed through improvisation and work-shopping. I love that every character is flawed, making the performances that much for credible and rich.

And finally, I loved the depiction of a man of color taking responsibility, even when he’s not sure it is his burden to bear. Yes, he went kicking and screaming. Yes, he sucked at it for a long time. But he did eventually take responsibility. Mainstream film features render precious few such positive images of African American men, hell of single fathers in general (unless of course, they are Will Smith). So Thank You, Sean Baker, cast and crew for giving us this modern urban tale!

(By the way, very nice touch with the test results moment.)

Prince of Broadway is part of the Summer Previews category at the Los Angeles Film Festival running now through June 29th in the Westwood Village.

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