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