After watching a film that I just thought tanked (I feel bad naming names) at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Sunday, I almost called it quits for the day. But I decided to rally for Prince of Broadway, which is competing in the narrative competition with the aforementioned doozy. Before you get too excited, this is not a pic about The Artist Formerly Known As The Symbol or jazz hands. Nor does it follow the artist formerly known as the symbol doing jazz hands. It’s a film with a message — wah, wah, wah — but do not fret, Prince of Broadway is worth the fuss.
The pic follows a West African immigrant named Lucky (Prince Adu) who works as a hustler selling counterfeit purses and sneakers for an Armenian-Lebanese immigrant named Levon (Karren Karagulian) in his illegal New York garment district storefront. Lucky, who is just trying to get his life together is thrown for a loop when an ex-girlfriend (Kat Sanchez) drops an 18-month-old (Aiden Noesi) in his arms claiming the child is his and then disappears. As the film’s tagline indicates, hustling with a toddler in tow is a “hard knock-off life.”
Director Sean Baker, who co-directed a similar slice-of-street-life indie film in 2004 called Take Out, about an illegal Chinese immigrant working as a restaurant deliveryman in NYC, says he likes films that “put a human face on people thatnormally do not get focused on in films and media.” (Important, giventhe current whitewashing of the media landscape, especially on TV.) The best part of this “social-realist” film, as Baker likes to call Prince, is that it’s not preachy, doesn’t taste like medicine and doesn’t feel like it’s trying so hard to be down with minorities. That’s most likely due to the pic’s partially- improv’d, documentary-like style and the fact that most of the actors, including the two leads, are not classically trained.
Baker discovered Sanchez during her son Aiden’s audition. Mom andson live in the Bronx. Karagulian has been in front of the camera a bitbefore but he primarily supports his wife and three children as amanager at a high-end rug store in Manhattan. As for Adu, this is notonly his first film, but he was once a hustler. “When I met him he wasdoing a legitimate legal job and now he just wants to act more thananything else,” says Baker. “When he said he was homeless last night[during the Q&A], I mean, he’s not on the street. He’s livingweek-to-week, which is actually considered homeless when you’re livingat one of those halfway, pay-per-week places in the Bronx. So he’s justhoping someone will recognize him while he’s in town.” The film coulduse a little recognition too, particularly from a buyer. “We’re allbroke right now,” says Baker. “All of us.”
To my ears, the trailer (above) has a bizarre soundtrack that is toodramatic for a film that is this organic. Still, if it piques your interest, and you’re in the Los Angelesarea, the feature is screening again on Thursday at 4:30.