Babygirl: Film Review

Incisive characterizations and wonderfully naturalistic performances make this indie drama stand out.

A teenager tries to expose the duplicities of her mother's boyfriend in this gritty coming of age drama.

A Nuyorican teenage girl attempts to expose the duplicities of her mother’s new lover in Irish director Macdara Vallely’s well-nuanced coming of age drama set in the teeming streets of the Bronx. While Babygirl traffics in some overly familiar themes, its incisive characterizations, realistic dialogue and wonderfully naturalistic performances compensate for its rough-hewn aspects.

Fifteen-year-old Lena (Yainis Ynoa) seems to bear the weight of the world on her shoulders. Her single mother Lucy (Rosa Arredondo) has dated a series of inappropriate men, including the wayward father of her infant brother. Lucy’s newest paramour is the significantly younger Victor (Flaco Navaja), a smooth talker who seems to have an uncomfortable interest in Lena as well as her mother.

Lena, meanwhile, enjoys the obvious romantic interest of a sweet-natured classmate (Joshua Rivera) with whom her best friend (Gleendilys Inoa) urges her to hook up. But she’s took busy taking care of her brother and working as a cashier at a supermarket to help support the family to pay much attention to her personal life.

When Victor makes his intentions ever so clear, the precocious Lena decides to play along with the hope of making her mother see the light. But the dangerous game proves more complicated than she expected, as her own burgeoning sexuality produces unexpected feelings.

This well-drawn morality tale exerts a quiet fascination, both for the subtlety of its execution and the terrific performances from the ensemble. Despite his Irish background, director Vallely demonstrates a keen grasp of the film’s milieu, refraining from avoiding the usual clichés attendant to the gritty setting. And he’s discovered a real find in the form of young actress Ynoa, who invests her characterization with fascinating shades of gray that keep us guessing as to her feelings and motivations. Despite the occasional misstep, such as the musical montage too many, Babygirl boasts a complexity that has the feel of real life.

Opened Oct. 4  

Production: Sampson Films, Escape Pictures, Werner Film

Cast: Yainis Ynoa, Rosa Arredondo, Flaco Navaja, Joshua Rivera, Gleendilyn Inoa

Director/screenwriter: Macdara Vallely

Producers: David Collins, Gigi Dement, R. Paul Miller

Executive producers: Felix Wener, Kathrin Werner

Director of photography: Jarin Blaschke

Editor: Nathan Nugent

Production designer: Carmen Cardenas

Not rated, 81 min.