Prince of Broadway
EmptyVenue: Los Angeles Film Festival.
Sean Baker's third feature is a fine example of how an independent film's economical scale can sometimes deliver substantial payoffs. Admirably resourceful, "Prince of Broadway" thrives in that increasingly fertile stylistic niche combining documentary and narrative aesthetics.
The film's ample charisma, along with an evocative social theme, signals clear arthouse potential for a specialized distributor. "Prince of Broadway" recently played in competition at the Los Angeles Film Festival, where Baker won the juried Target Filmmaker Award for narrative feature.
With a straightforward setup, Baker introduces West African immigrant Lucky (Prince Adu), one of New York City's numerous illegals surviving on the fringes of the conventional economy. Full of bravado, guile and gleeful smack talk, he hustles counterfeit designer fashions for Armenian-Lebanese shopkeeper Levon (Karren Karagulian) on midtown Broadway.
Lucky's player image takes a major hit when sketchy ex-girlfriend Linda (Kat Sanchez) shows up with her 18-month-old (Aiden Noesi) and literally leaves the toddler in his arms, claiming that Lucky's the father and that she needs him to take care of the little boy for a couple of weeks. Since contacting the child welfare authorities would reveal his immigration status, Lucky's stuck with the kid after Linda disappears.
Trading late nights drinking and smoking with buddies for changing diapers and other childcare responsibilities, Lucky discovers a world of woe and unexpected joy with the boy he later names Prince. After his attempts to track down Linda and return the kid prove fruitless, however, Lucky decides to take a DNA test to determine if Prince is indeed his child.
Writer-director Baker weaves this simple character-driven story, rooted in contemporary concerns of social realism, into a multilayered meditation on masculinity, nationality and race, never prioritizing the tricky theme of assimilation over of his characters' quests to attain a tenuous personal and social equilibrium.
The largely non-professional cast is a major asset, with the actors relying on collaboratively developed improvisational dialogue and authentic dramatic situations to achieve persuasive performances. The filmmakers were particularly fortunate with toddler Aiden Noesi, whose humorous antics fuel an easy and unaffected rapport with co-star Prince Adu, another natural actor.
Shot mostly handheld by Baker on HD with adept, uncluttered camerawork, staged in realistic, intimate settings and underpinned by overlapping street-wise dialogue, "Prince of Broadway" is the genuine article.
Production company: Cre Film.
Cast: Prince Adu, Karren Karagulian, Aiden Noesi, Keyali Mayaga, Kat Sanchez, Victoria Tate. Director: Sean Baker. Screenwriters: Sean Baker, Darren Dean. Producer: Darren Dean. Director of photography: Sean Baker. Production designer: Stephonik Youth Baker. Editor: Sean Baker
No MPAA rating, 102 minutes.