Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sean Baker's far too undersung/underseen PRINCE OF BROADWAY comes to DVD


A few years ago Sean Baker made a movie -- Take Out -- that opened up to viewers the world of Chinese illegals working in New York City in the restaurant trade. Now Baker's back with a new film that does something similar for an African emigre who is not only illegal in America but who works in a trade -- the grey market for fashion knock-offs -- that is as illegal as he is. And once again, Mr Baker envelopes us in the lives of characters who seem very real and quite worth our time. And he does this -- glory, glory -- with remarkably few clichés and via camerawork and editing (both done by the filmmaker himself) that are hands-on, up-close, and wonderfully intimate and immediate.

Baker, shown at left, also provides what is one of the best child performances I've ever seen, by a little kid (Aiden Noesi, shown above and below), who surely can't have been more than one or two years old when the film was shot. He shares the role of title character, along with his "maybe" dad, and they're both, in their way, "Princes" of Broadway -- that Manhattan boulevard, around the neighborhood of 27th and 28th Streets, in which the older Prince (played by newcomer Prince Adu, at right, below) plies his trade. The little Prince, sheer delight to view, is a scene-stealer whom Baker has managed to capture without the kid ever seeming to know that the camera exists.

While making use of the filmmaker's documentary-based style, Prince of Broadway offers more of a typical "story" than did Take Out -- three of 'em, actually. The primary one deals with the two princes and how one suddenly comes into the other's life and changes it drastically, as babies will do. The second involves Prince père's boss in the fake-fashion world, an Armenian named Levon (played by Karren Karagulian, below), a surprisingly decent guy with family problems of his own.

The third tale, least important but still catalytic, involves an ex-girlfriend of Prince and her new guy. How these three weave in and out, along with the presence of our hero's current lady -- who proves remarkably warm and helpful, -- considering the state, in one of the film's funniest, grossest scenes, of her boy-friend's bedroom wall.

As well-done, as downright enjoyable as the film is, there is also the sense that we're seeing a bit too much of the "good" side of things. Child-rearing, even under the best of circumstances, is difficult, problematic and sometimes very hard to handle. We get little of that here.

The difficult scenes are so short that they seem to pass more quickly and easily than real-life would allow, and the three main characters -- Prince, his current girlfriend, and Levon -- are shown as a just a shade too good-to-be-true. This hardly halts our enjoyment of the film or of Baker's great skill in capturing the moment, but it does leave us with the sense of a happy ending a little too easily obtained.

Still, the performances are spectacularly good in terms of moment-to-moment reality. According to the end credits, the cast  improvised from the filmmaker's original scenario -- and they did a fine job of it.

Prince of Broadway, released via Flatiron Film Company - New Video Group, made its DVD debut last week and is available now for rental, purchase or download.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I found your blog after seeing this movie and wanted to know more about the actors. It is truly a captivating movie that seemed so real. The actors were all amazing.

James van Maanen said...

You're right, Anonymous. Mr Baker's performers are always quite wonderful. This young filmmaker has a way of casting the right people and then drawing fine work from them all. If you haven't already, I'd suggest seeing his other two films: Take Out and the more recent Starlet.

To learn more about the actors in Prince of Broadway, go to www.imdb.com , search for that movie, and then click on each cast member to learn more about the actor in question.