A good first effort with heart felt acting but this film does not provide the thrills and spills some expect from inner city explorations
First time director mark Webber took home the 2008 SXSW Film Festival Audience Award for a Narrative Feature for his work on this film. It is a drama of four interconnecting stories revolving around love, drugs and poverty in the Badlands of North Philadelphia. A good kid gets the short end the stick, a tough kid gets a girl, rich kids learn the hard way and a middle class family gets a hard-won break but has tough road ahead. This film is the real McCoy, cats and kittens.
Seven year old Babo (Francisco Burgos) has asthma bad and his mother can’t pay for the drugs. She has nowhere to turn when he has a bad day and a bad attack. The emergency room takes him while he stabilizes but then releases him to her care. To go where? No money, no drugs. Not only do the people suffer but the system doesn’t work to keep people out of high-cost emergency rooms. Something has to give.
Next door teen Demitri (Martin Cepeda) has his eye on a girl. When she tells him she only goes out with smart boys, a miracle happens. He gets glasses and a book and becomes smart. Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t do it any better in “Catch Me If You Can.” In the end, if he would have just gone to class more he would have found it was easier to get smart that way instead of pretending to be smart all the time.
Michele (Frankie Shaw) is an art student with a lot of money and a growing drug habit. When she falls in love with her dealer Jacob (Lou Taylor Pucci), it is a match made in heaven. But Jacob soon finds out there is a reason why not just anybody sells drugs. He has competition. As it turns out, the competition is the best thing that could have happened to them both.
Kaleef and Jill dream of opening their own health food and produce store. They are black, local and have the vision to see a new way of living. But they have a lot of built-in baggage to overcome before they get even a little of their dream.
Combine these simmering plots with a great sound track including catchy tunes with a dangerous percussive back beat when required and the result is a good piece of work. The photography is a good mix of light and dark, low shots and high shots and static and hand-held camera work. There are no artificial sets in this piece; everything appears to be shot on the streets and in the houses. Good feeling of being right in the middle of the action.
The film is a modest first effort, appropriate for a young director and a young cast, but it has heart and focus. Mark Webber’s acting in past films (“Broken Flowers,” “Wendy”) and the stories were not all that exciting although they were distinctive. But this film succeeds in expanding the very gripping youth-oriented issues of drugs, health and crime to spotlight them as national political issues. The result is a film that will appeal to the youth market but has a weighty message. It is entertaining but much more thought provoking than many romantic or family dramas that involve teens and 20-somethings. The youthful characters have an edge—the youth-oriented crises (money, drugs, and violence) that often are direct life and death issues.
But even though they cause tremendous suffering, individual death and mental destruction taken one by one they are not national priorities. The success of this movie is that it expands the riveting, personal nature of a child’s death and a person’s addiction into national issues of health care, poverty and education.
This film will be a bit too serious for the average viewer and will be the stuff of indie film buffs, the same people who watched “Do the Right Thing and, recently, “Frozen River.” Earlier films such as the terrifying “Requiem for a Dream” and “Half Nelson” do a better job of making the audience have nightmares about drug use but this film actually points the way out of the morass. Get active and let the politicians hear your voice. It beats the alternative.
Release: March 6, 2009
MPAA: Not Rated
Runtime: 87 minutes