Eva and Brandon are that couple that you’re rooting for in high school or hoping that they make it through college together.
And so is the movie about their romance. “Angelfish” covers very familiar cinematic ground. He’s from the wrong side of the New York tracks, she’s from an equally wrong side. She has responsibilities, duties to her family. He does, too, with an even worse home situation to manage.
But these two crazy kids and their comfort food romance — “West Side Story” without the dancing or singing gangs — have something. They may not say much or do much. But they pass the test Brandon’s boss at the supermarket deli (Bobby Plasencia) sets up in the first scene.
“It ain’t all sunshine and roses. You’ve gotta find someone who’s not gonna put you in a bad place.”
Brandon, played by Jim Stanton of Showtime’s “Your Honor” series, keeps to himself, keeps it polite and when he has to, keeps it real. He’s from Kings Bridge, a section of the north Bronx that’s long been tough and is transitioning from working class white to Latin in the early ’90s.
He meets Marble Hill native Eva (rapper Princess Nokia) at the meat counter, and bluntly helps her fend off a creeper running his “Aye, mami” game at her against her will.
She’s pretty and shy, college-bound. That’s all he gets from her. But as she walks away his slack-jawed smile gives away his game. Smitten.
Eva’s friends, especially the brash gay teen Ricky (Sebastian Chacon), have little pearls of wisdom for her, too. Close the deal with your beau Rafael, who’s down in “PR.” Go to college. Get on with it.
“It don’t make sense waiting to do something that’s going to make you happy,” Ricky advises, reading from the movie gay BFF guidebook.
But is Rafael and college to study accounting what she wants to do? It’s certainly her working mom’s wish.
The second moment Eva runs into Brandon is where her questioning of that path begins. He’s big on telling her to follow her dream and try acting. She doesn’t say anything, but maybe a deli man at a market isn’t all he could be, either.
Life at home? Complicated. She’s got siblings, including an older brother with special needs, and mom works all the time. He has a younger brother, Conor (Stanley Simons), a lazy teen itching to hang out with the wrong crowd.
And their single mom (Erin Davie) is a barfly, still pretty enough to wind up bringing this guy or that guy home. She doesn’t feed her kids and brushes everything off on Brandon. Oh, and she’s always mouthing off about “those people” coming in “our neighborhood.”
Well, as the Bard said, “The course of true love never did run smooth. True love always encounters difficulties.”
Mentioning Shakespeare in reviewing writer-director Peter Lee’s debut feature isn’t fair, but he’s riding on the shoulders of giants, dwarves, and everybody else who ever scripted a “young love” romance here.
He shortchanges Eva’s posse of friends, and conveniently leaves Brandon a loner — trapped keeping his kid brother out of trouble, holding his tongue longer than humanly possible over his mother’s pronounced neglect and disinterest.
The movie is both uncluttered and malnourished by that narrowing of focus.
Lee’s leads aren’t dazzling, but both have good chemistry and screen presence. Stanton has more scenes, but all he has to do is live up to the line Eva’s girlfriend slips her when they do their restroom “conference” about her new beau.
“You should see the way he looks at you!”
Princess Nokia, who may return to using her “Not a cell phone” name (Destiny Nicole Frasqueri) someday, doesn’t have a lot of arrows in her acting quiver yet. But she feels real up on the screen. Her character is lived-in, conflicted, not ready for the adult decisions she’s having to make at 18.
“Angelfish” is seriously undemanding, but benefits from novel settings (few New York movies are set in Marble Hill/Kings Bridge) and a period piece story that strips away the artifice and distraction that love in the age of cell phones promises. Back in ’93, you had to use a pay phone when you wanted privacy, had to write somebody’s number down and had to wait in the apartment if you were expecting a call.
That’s true love.
MPAA Rating: unrated, some profanity, suggestions of sexual situations
Cast: Princess Nokia, Jim Stanton, Stanley Simons, Erin Davie, Sebastian Chacon and Rosie Berrido
Credits: Written and directed by Peter Lee. A Dark Star release.
Running time: 1:36