Washington Heights

on May 09, 2003 by Dan DiClerico
In the patently patriarchal "Washington Heights," men and their fathers are the filter through which life in a Latino enclave of upper New York City is passed. At the center of the narrative is Carlos Ramirez (Manny Perez), a twentysomething comic book artist trapped more by the confines of his own stunted imagination than the barrio he fears is holding him back (his best creative efforts to date figure around enslaved earthling gals and their alien captors). When Carlos' father Eddie (finely portrayed by the talented Tomas Milian), a debt-laden, skirt-chasing widower, is paralyzed during a robbery-turned-shooting, Carlos is forced to take over the family bodega, thus further ensnaring him in a past he can't face, let alone escape.

A parallel father-son dynamic is played out between Mickey Kilpatrick (Danny Hoch), a half-witted wannabe bowler, and his domineering landlord dad (Jude Ciccolella). And there's the supporting cast of usual suspects, including Maggie (Andrea Navedo), Carlos' loving and sure-minded girlfriend, and her renegade brother, Angel (Bobby Cannavale), whose baritone bravado intoxicates his every scene.

Without a mother to watch over it, “Washington Heights” takes some unruly turns, and the hand-held digital camera play makes for an occasionally bumpy ride. Yet rather than disarm the drama, these devices give the film a visceral pitch equal to the world it represents. Throughout, director Alfredo de Villa tells the story with an effective warts-and-all honesty. In one particularly grueling sequence, Carlos is summoned to his father's bedside, not for a sentimental heart-to-heart, but to change the old man's soiled pajamas. This role reversal isn't just another sappy the-child-is-the-father-of-the-man moment--and this is where the film ultimately succeeds. Its depiction of life sidesteps cliché, sticking to the borough of real and plausible human emotion. Starring Tomas Milian, Manny Perez, Danny Hoch, Jude Ciccolella and Andrea Navedo. Directed by Alfredo de Villa. Written by Manny Perez, Alfredo de Villa and Nat Moss. Produced by Luis Dantas, Manny Perez, Tom Donahue and Alfredo de Villa. A Mac release. Drama. Rated R for language, sexuality, brief violence and drug use. Running time: 87 min.

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