Thursday, September 02, 2010

Knock-Off Fatherhood: Prince of Broadway

A born salesman, Lucky could sell ice in Antarctica—if it was fake. He has charm and ambition, but he is about to be thrown for a loop. Kids will do that to you every time, especially if they are yours (most likely). The street smart Lucky suddenly has to grow-up real quick in Sean Baker’s deliberately grungy indie Prince of Broadway (trailer here), which opens in New York tomorrow.

Lucky works the streets of New York’s Garment District, trying to entice customers back to Levon’s dodgy apparel showroom. Lucky and his Armenian boss get along fairly well, sharing a common bond as immigrants of dubious standing. Lucky lives in an efficiency, saving assiduously. Thanks to his financial means, Levon married for a greencard, but his wife is no longer content with their relationship. Then one fateful day, Lucky’s ex Linda shows up with a young boy who does not look completely dissimilar to him, insisting he look after his supposed son for a “few weeks.”

Of course, having a small child in tow (whose name he does not even know) cramps Lucky’s style hustling knock-offs for Levon. It also makes it nearly impossible for him to find quality time with his girlfriend Karina. While both are remarkably supportive of the reluctant father, it is clear Lucky will have to make some serious decisions.

Prince certainly covers some well-worn territory, but is surprisingly effective none-the-less. Yes, the kid is cute and Lucky eventually warms to him. Yet at critical junctures, Baker consistently opts for realism over easy sentimentality, which definitely keeps things real. It also avoids quite a few of the expected clichés, particularly with the friendly, cooperative relationship it depicts between Lucky and his illegal employer, rather than one solely characterized by class-based exploitation. Still, Prince’s grainy shaky-cam gets more than a bit distracting after a while.

Ghanaian Prince Adu’s dynamic breakthrough performance as Lucky is clearly the cornerstone of the film. Cocky, funny, desperate, and riveting, he delivers a real arc of character development. Karren Karagulian is also compulsively watchable as the unexpectedly complex Levon. Their scenes playing off each other are easily among the best of the largely improvised film.

Ultimately, Prince ends roughly where you would likely predict it to, but there are some sharply pointed scenes along the way. You also have to give credit to a film that includes a bit of jazz drummer Ari Hoenig’s “The Painter” in the soundtrack. Considerably better than one might expect, the unflaggingly naturalistic Prince opens tomorrow (9/3) in New York at the Angelika.