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Washington Heights
Wrt. Manny Perez, Alfredo de Villa, Nat Moss
Dir. Alfredo de Villa
Str. Manny Perez, Tomas Milian, Danny Hoch, Bobby Cannavale, Andrea Navedo
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"I know I say some shit sometimes, but that's just me being stupid"


Imagine if they made a movie about Williamsburg. They'd call it 'Driggs' or something like that, and it would be all about some guy with a Brady Bunch wardrobe who's just finished off the last of his trust fund. Let's say it opens with a giant party at Daddy's as our hero blows the final few dollars. And now, the morning after, he has to decide whether to get a job in Manhattan (cut to some kooky scenes where he's wearing a turquoise leisure suit while interviewing at Goldman-Sachs) or follow his dreams of being the drummer in an indie-pop/reggae-funk band the lead singer of which just happens to be a Joan Jet vixen with a sand-paper attitude and a heart of gold underneath. Along the way our intrepid hero (aptly named Bobby, or Greg, or Peter or something) runs into all the colorful characters and archetypes of Bedford and the surrounding avenues. The Mr. Softie ice-cream truck with that really disturbing ice-cream truck tune which probably sells more drugs than frozen confections; the short, creepy, possibly retarded, guy who is always walking around with an umbrella waving at someone across the street and shouting "Hey! Hey! Hey!" until they wave back; the disgruntled painter who has been here since "way-back-when" and can't deal with the onslaught of NYU munchkins; the token Hassidic Jew who extrapolates on the history of his neighborhood and what's become if it. And the movie will have a dramatic climax where our hair-like-a-muppet hero storms out of his corporate job and runs to the subway just in time to catch the L which gets him back to the hood just in time to meet up with his foxy-fronted band as they open for some curiously mismatched, but well-known, local talent (say Fisherspooner, for example). And just before they start playing he says something important like "Ah Williamsburg! Wouldn't have you any other way." Roll credits.

Free Williamsburg
Film Archive

2003

Spellbound
Cowboy Bebop

Washington Heights
Better Luck Tomorrow
Confidence
View From the Top

Laurel Canyon

Spider
Spun
Ordinary Sinner
Dark Blue
Chaos
The Quiet American
XX/YY

2002

Intacto
Empire
Max
Hell House
Good Housekeeping
Roger Dodger
Spirited Away
Punch-Drunk Love
Bowling For Columbine
Scarlet Diva
Full Frontal
Sex and Lucia
The Powerpuff Girls Movie
Read My Lips (Sur Mes Levres)
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
Barleby
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Human Nature
Shot in the Heart
Jim Brown: All American
Stolen Summer
Curve
Ram Dass: Fierce Grace
Storytelling


That's kind of what Washington Heights is like. It has this "Look at what a crazy neighborhood I grew up in" feel. And even though I've spent exactly zero minutes in the area, the characters and situations already feel like clichés. The plot follows an arc that is so familiar, the writers must have pulled it off the back of a Golden Grahams box (Free inside: a feature length film script!) The inner conflict is so heavy and it is brought up so immediately. Our hero, Carlos (Perez), is a comic book illustrator who desperately wants to get his own material published; but his father, Eddie (Milian), is pushing him to take over the family bodega. What is poor Carlos to do? It's about as obvious as a Choose Your Own Adventure.

There isn't too much that saves the movie from its insipidity. One thing, interestingly enough, is the bad acting. There is a remarkable quality to the performances: they are all uniformly tepid and unimaginative. But this semi-warmth is so uniform across the whole cast that it never really feels like anyone is atrocious. I suppose a performance can only be judged relative to another performance, and if everyone is equally bad (just like if everyone is equally brilliant), then without the contrast, you never really notice. Furthermore, there is always something cool about seeing a movie set in your city. Even in New York where every movie is set here, it's still cool. And Washington Heights doesn't try to paint anything over the New York backdrop. Also the music selections and the score were quite good.


THE RATINGS


Three Hams


The father who gets robbed and shot in the opening five minutes, the drug-dealing Angel (Cannavale), even the comic book Carlos is trying to draw. Everything is overdone, everything has too much of a point. And all of it has been seen before.


Three Well Endowed DJ's

The music is the only really redeemable thing; Leigh Roberts' original score is truly inspired. If Washington Heights had been slightly more interesting, then the music could have almost carried the entire film, on its own.

One-And-A-Half Uninspired Hipsters

The biggest flaw is that Washington Heights is a movie about a neighborhood. Those things never fly. As cool as you might think your own neighborhood is; no one more than a block-and-a-half outside of it is going to agree with you.


--B.C. Edwards
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[email protected] | May 2003 | Issue 38
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