As you may know, Joe Shearer and I were each jurors for the Indianapolis International Film Festival. As such, we felt it was best that we not review the feature films for the category in which we were judging. (I did American Spectrum; Joe was on the feature documentary panel.) I had already written reviews of two of the movies in my category. Now that the festival has given out its awards, I felt it was OK to publish them here.
A street hustler, his boss, his ex-girlfriend and the baby she unceremoniously dumps on him -- that's the extended family spotlighted in "Prince of Broadway," which explores the underbelly of the Big Apple, finding both harshness and tenderness.
Lucky (Prince Adu) is an illegal immigrant from Jamaica who works the street. His stock in trade is not drugs, but cheap knock-offs of designer purses, coats and shoes. A natural charmer, Lucky entices clients off the streets into the shop run by Levon (Karren Karagulian), himself an immigrant from Lebanon. Hidden in the back is a special room with the loot. Levon watches the streets for police while Lucky works the customers.
Lucky's relationship to Levon is more older/younger brothers than father/son. Levon is even willing to slip some money into Lucky's pocket and give him the day off when trouble comes his way.
That trouble arrives in the form of a toddler, whose mother shows up one day and informs Lucky that he is the father, and he must watch the boy for a couple of weeks while she's busy. This happens right in the middle of a transaction between Lucky and two middle-aged white women, who doubtless will have a story to tell when they get back to the suburbs.
Lucky is stuck. He doesn't believe the child is his -- the boy, who he eventually dubs Prince, is light-skinned while Lucky himself is dark as a moonless night. And he can't call the authorities since he's in the country illegally. So the only solution is to continue his street hustling with a baby in tow, which puts a bit of a damper in his business. It also throws a wrench into his relationship with his current girlfriend, who is educated and uncomfortable with his life of petty crime.
He's infuriated and frustrated with the situation he's in, but Lucky isn't a bad guy. He tells Prince that he knows he is just an innocent, and will stick by him.
In a parallel storyline, we observe the deterioration of Levon's marriage to his wife. She's a dancer and much younger than he, and it's clear that she views her marriage as one of convenience, and whose benefits have become decidedly one-sided.
Director Sean Baker, who co-wrote the script with Darren Dean, has a sharp ear for street dialogue -- much of which was improvised in coordination with his cast. The saga of Prince and Lucky is a compelling one, but the Levon segment feels stitched on. The film probably would have been better served by centering on Lucky's story, with a few hints about his boss' personal life.
Still, "Prince of Broadway" is a sharp and emotionally rich look people getting by on the fringe of society, eager for an easy score but still willing to do the right thing.