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  Angelfish Romeo And Juliet Without The Violence
Year: 2019
Director: Peter Andrew Lee
Stars: Jimi Stanton, Princess Nokia, Stanley Simmons, Erin Davie, Rosie Barrido, Sebastian Chacon, Sandy Tejada, Claire McClanahan, Alejandra Ramos Riera, Kaelyn Ambert-Gonzalez, Kyle Glenn, Ivan Mendez, Bobby Plascencia, Adam Feingold, Sean Rogers
Genre: Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Brendan (Jimi Stanton) lives in New York City's Bronx, with his single mother (Erin Davie) and brother Conor (Stanley Simmons), both of whom are sharing their issues with him in ways he would rather be free of. As it is, he has a job at a deli counter to bring in some income, not his preferred choice of occupation but it could be worse, and one day he is at work when he notices a pretty Latina girl come in. She is Eva (Princess Nokia) and is being hassled by some guy who is overeager, to say the least, so Brendan has a word with him and tells him to back off, for which she is grateful, but maybe doesn't think about the encounter as much as he does. He sees her again, and has to ask...

Angelfish was an unassuming little indie romance that indirectly posited the idea that relationships were less complicated when there was less technology around to mess them up. It was perhaps a misty-eyed version of the past, but by setting it precisely at the time when mobile phones and social media were not on the scene just yet - but were assuredly on their way - director Peter Andrew Lee (here making his feature debut) crafted what was at once a fairy tale of how we used to live, yet at the same time a hard-edged concept of the things that have not changed. Those prejudices, those responsibilities, the potential for making poor choices, some things definitely stayed the same.

Also making her feature debut was rapper Princess Nokia, at the time a performer whose career was beginning to flourish thanks to her smart rhymes and offbeat sense of humour that were winning her a following; maybe it was ironic that the only phone characters here used were home landlines and payphones. Stanton had more experience as an actor here, and did very well in his role, but maybe more impressive was that Nokia matched him despite her relative inexperience, and had you believing this was a love story that happened organically, and more importantly was worth persevering with even as the couple were suffering from doubts that could easily sabotage their happiness.

As far as the basic message went, it was that old follow your dreams, you can be who you want to be business that was the theme of a million kids' entertainments, indicating Lee was pitching this, if not at children, then at least at teenagers, but he tapped into a universality about relationships that could appeal to any age. Questions of whether your family or friends will embarrass you or worse in front of the object of your affection are ones which crop up in anyone's lives, and Brendan and Eva go through that in a more extreme way than many, though not so much that it becomes farfetched, nobody ends up murdered as if this was West Side Story without the singing and dancing (though the leading lady could have conjured up a few beats and lyrics for that idea, you imagine, had she been required).

Princess Nokia here went by her real name of Destiny Frasqueri, suggesting she wanted to keep her acting and her music separate, and there was nothing by her on composer Tom Bromley's soundtrack. If they did want to evoke the nineteen-nineties - this was set in 1993 - then casting a rapper in their movie was as authentic as it got, but she offered a reading of more than a generic romantic partner, as Eva has to negotiate her family's expectations, including looking after a disabled brother as well as having a boyfriend who wasn't Irish American, just as Brendan has a mother who is a bit of a nightmare. She is labouring under an aggressive persecution complex that sees her lashing out at the Puerto Ricans in the community, blaming her absent partner (who left years ago) and ignoring what she can be doing to help troubled Conor over her own self-centred interests. Can our two protagonists survive this and see their love blossom? In the end, it was quite sweet, nothing earth-shattering but you would appreciate it if you liked urban romance.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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