Love in the Marble Hill section of the Bronx isn’t easy. In Angelfish, two young lovers find each other in this modern day Romeo and Juliet tale from Director Peter Lee. Brendon (Jimi Stanton) works in the deli section of a grocery store where he meets Eva (Princess Nokia) a Puerto Rican girl from Marble Hill. The two fall in love a la Tony and Maria in West Side Story only further north and without the song and dance numbers.
The story is nothing new, boy meets girl, they fall in love, but then outside forces work to drive them apart. Brendon has a mother who drinks too much, and isn’t there for him and his younger brother Conor (Stanley Simons). Conor hangs with the wrong crowd and gets into trouble with only Brendon to bail him out. Eva is being pressured by her mom to go to college and become an accountant even though she would rather pursue her passion for acting. She also has to care for her disabled brother and take on added responsibilities that don’t leave much room for dreams and romance.
Angelfish is a throwback to the indie films of the 90s which were built on a foundation of well-crafted scripts and strong performances. Lee’s realistic dialogue and hand-held camera make us feel as if we’re a fly-on-the-wall as we walk down the streets and back alleys of the Bronx with our two protagonists. All the characters seem like real people. The performances are honest and pull no punches. The groups of family and friends have real chemistry with one another, and the Spanish speaking characters speak Spanish when they’re together unlike some films that would have them speaking English for our benefit. You get the sense that these are real people living through real circumstances.
Destiny Frasqueri aka Princess Nokia makes her film debut, and her performance is remarkable. She comes to this role so naturally. It feels like it was written for her and was based on her real life experience. She also has great chemistry with Stanton, who along with Nokia carries the film. Stanton plays a young man at a crossroads in his life uncertain as to whether he should stay and can take care of his younger brother or leave the Bronx and create a new future for himself.
Erin Davie is outstanding as Brendon’s alcoholic mother. One look at her tells the story of a single mom unable to cope with her responsibilities and circumstances. She didn’t ask to be a mother, and alcohol and boyfriends are her escape. Bobby Plasencia is noteworthy as Mr. Nunez who works with Brendon and gives him some sage advice. Plasencia creates an authentic character with a sense of world-weariness. He is the older, wiser father figure Brendon so desperately needs.
This is writer/director Lee’s first feature, and it’s a good start for what will hopefully be a promising career. In the hands of a lesser director, this material would not be nearly as compelling. We can see that he is gifted when it comes to directing actors, and has a strong sense of story.
Angelfish is an intimate drama about people who live in a poor neighborhood, the type of movie audiences don’t get to see on the big screen anymore, and that’s a shame. The film is now available on VOD in North America where hopefully it will find an audience. If you like love stories and want to see a side of life not normally shown in film and television, I highly recommend it.