Washington Heights

2003, Movie, R, 80 mins


Set in the predominantly Latino neighborhood that stretches out on the upper Manhattan side of the George Washington Bridge, Alfredo de Villa's promising debut feature is satisfyingly complex exploration of a group of characters trying to keep their dreams alive in the often cold light of the New York City day. At the center are aspiring comic book artist Carlos Ramirez (co-writer Manny Perez) and his widower father Eddie (Tomas Milian, the Cuban-born veteran of countless Italian films of the 1960s and '70s), a first generation Dominican-American immigrant who once dreamt of becoming a bolero singer. Instead he got married, had kids and now owns a corner bodega in Washington Heights. Eddie works downtown inking comic-book panels and hopes one day hopes to have his own strip. But when he shows his drawings to his boss, he's less than impressed; Eddie has talent, but his work — a tired amalgam of busty space-chicks and Venusian aliens — lacks soul. The critique comes as a confidence-rattling blow, which puts a strain on Carlos's relationship with his girlfriend Maggie (Andrea Navedo). But his plans for the future are completely shattered the night his father is seriously wounded in a botched robbery attempt. After refusing to lead the gunman to his safe, Eddie is shot in the stomach; paralyzed from the waist down, he'll never walk again. Carlos subsequently learns that his father borrowed $25,000 from building owner Sean Kilpatirck (Jude Ciccolella), and realizes that he will not only have to care for Eddie, but also work at the bodega to pay Sean back. Like his father before him, Carlos must put his own dreams on hold in order to assume the burden of family responsibility. An interesting subplot involving Sean's son Mickey (talented monologist Danny Hoch), who's also Carlos's best friend, deepens the film's concern with the ways in which personal goals too often give way to expediency and family pressures. Mickey is trying to raise $3000 so he can enter an amateur bowling tournament in Las Vegas, but is discouraged by his insensitive father. Tightly edited exterior sequences capture the flavor of the neighborhood's street life, and De Villa assembled a solid ensemble cast of relative unknowns. Not surprisingly, the film is strongest when its characters are simply hanging out, shooting the breeze and venting their feelings, while moments of high drama occasionally fall flat. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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