'From Nowhere': Film Review

Courtesy of FilmRise
This urgent drama couldn't have arrived at a better time.
2/17/2017

Three undocumented Bronx high school students struggle to avoid deportation in Matthew Newton's indie drama.

Filmmaker Matthew Newton might have hoped that his indie drama would have seemed a little less timely upon its release, but the recent travel ban and immigration crackdown has only given his effort greater urgency. Depicting the struggles of three undocumented Bronx high school students to avoid deportation, From Nowhere resonates with tender compassion for its characters.

The story’s young central figures, who all came to the U.S. as young children, are Moussa (J. Mallory McCree), from Guinea, whose mother (Chinasa Ogbuagu) is struggling financially; Alyssa, from Peru, whose sunny optimism reflects her status as class valedictorian; and Sophie (Octavia Chavez-Richmond), from the Dominican Republic, who seethes with resentment and suffers both neglect and sexual abuse from the extended family members with whom she’s living.

Dedicated teacher Jackie (Julianne Nicholson) attempts to help her students by connecting them with an immigration lawyer (Denis O’Hare) who is willing to take their cases pro bono. In between taking telephone calls and ordering lunch, he advises them that the best way to argue their case is not with evidence of excellent grades or good behavior, but rather to suggest that they would be in severe danger if sent back home. He rattles off a checklist of potential factors, including genital mutilation, a dictatorial government and genocide.

The film betrays its stage origins — the screenplay was written by Newton and the original playwright, Kate Ballen — with its frequently talky, static scenes. And the relative lack of narrative attention paid to one of the central characters proves all too schematic by the denouement. But the characterizations often defy predictability, such as the landlord who shows compassion even while threatening Moussa’s mother with eviction, or the lawyer who proves more emotionally invested in his clients’ fates than he initially lets on. And when the story threatens to veer into melodrama, such as when Jackie comes under suspicion because of her close relationship with Moussa, the film smartly avoids the temptation.

The young performers shine brightly in their roles, with Chavez-Richmond a standout as the emotionally volatile but deceptively vulnerable Sophie. Nicholson movingly conveys her character’s combination of idealism and naiveté, while O’Hare underplays to perfection as the harried lawyer.

Production company: No Place for Films
Distributor: FilmRise
Cast: Julianne Nicholson, Denis O’Hare, J. Mallory McCree, Octavia Chavez-Richmond, Chinasa Ogbuagu, Raquel Castro, Tashiana Washington, Sydni Beaudoin
Director: Matthew Newton
Screenwriters/producers: Matthew Newton, Kate Ballen
Director of photography: Jay Keitel
Production designer: Madison Burgess
Editor: Betsy Kagen
Costume designer: Begonia Berges
Casting: Judy Henderson

89 minutes

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