Immigrant: Film Review

This earnest autobiographical drama is marred by awkward storytelling and an overly melodramatic approach

Barry Shurchin's '70s-set drama depicts the travails of a Russian immigrant family in New York City.

Barry Shurchin's Immigrant is apparently based on his own childhood experiences, but you'd hardly know it from the wholly unconvincing nature of his period drama. Set in late 1970s Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, and concerning the travails of a newly arrived Russian Jewish couple and their young son, Immigrant squanders its considerable dramatic potential and obviously heartfelt intentions with heavy-handed melodrama.

The storyline is set in motion by the desire of Meela (Angela Gots) to leave her native country because of its increasing anti-Semitism. Her automotive engineer husband Deema (Harry Hamlin) bitterly resents the move and becomes more despondent upon their arrival when he's forced to take a job as a menial laborer. Lapsing into alcoholism, he eventually commits suicide by slitting his wrists in front of his horrified family.

Meanwhile, their nine-year-old son Daanyik (Samuel J. Dixon) has trouble assimilating into his new surroundings as well. Bullied at school because of his broken English, he's encouraged to fight back with unfortunate results. He also falls prey to a sexually abusive rabbi (Michael Lerner) who takes a particular relish in teaching his young charges dodgeball.

Things go from bad to worse after Deema's suicide, with Meela soon taking up with a fellow immigrant, "Uncle" Toleek (Andrew Divoff), whose violent tendencies take the proceedings into even darker, more brutal territory.

Although director-screenwriter Shurchin displays an obvious familiarity with the milieu, his storytelling skills leave much to be desired. The fractured narrative awkwardly lurches from one melodramatic encounter to another often with confusing results. The thinly drawn characters rarely rise above the level of stereotype, with the actors, speaking in thick Russian accents, struggling to overcome the screenplay's deficiencies.

In an attempt at moody stylization, scenes are punctuated by montages of archival film footage of New York, a decision made all the more bizarre by the fact that they're from a period decades earlier. It's the most glaring misstep in a film that might have benefited from a more objective approach.

(Buffalo 8 Productions)

Cast: Harry Hamlin, Angela Gots, Samuel J. Dixon, Andrew Divoff, Paul Sorvino, Michael Lerner

Director-screenwriter: Barry Shurchin

Producers: Matthew Helderman, Barry Shurchin, Luke Dylan Taylor

Director of photography: Akis Konstantakopoulos

Editor: Luis Carballar

Production designer: Wade Morrison

Costume designer: Kristine Rinder

Composer: Paul Cantelon

Not rated, 88 min.