Angel Rodriguez is a small-scale and elegantly understated look at one troubled urban teen's dilemmas and the equally tough challenges faced by the woman charged to help him. Spanning just two typical days in the life of 16-year-old Angel (Jonan Everett), we're given just enough time to appreciate how tough it will be for him to change his circumstances. There are no easy answers.
We meet Angel in the apartment of Nicole (Rachel Griffiths) and her husband Henry (Denis O'Hare). It isn't quite clear what the relationship between Angel and the couple is, but we know he's been invited to sleep over. Only later do we realize that Nicole is Angel's generous social worker, and he has nowhere else to go. Henry is not pleased by the arrangement but tries to engage Angel, with little success. They're from different planets.
A bright computer whiz, Angel has lost his mother and is estranged from his nasty father (David Zayas). Much smarter than his only two friends, the morbidly obese video gamer Raymond (an excellent Wallace Little) and the gossipy gay Jamie (Jon Norman Schneider), Angel has been slumming when he should be shining. There is no love in his life, just the earnest prodding of Nicole, whose current goal is to set up a family meeting, which Angel dreads.
We soon see why. Angel's dad is a true SOB who uses the meeting to run down his son, accuse him of being a criminal, and tell him he's absolutely not welcome home. Nicole tries to smooth things over with psychobabble, but Angel's eyes make it clear that he has no faith in her good will. He's been burned by the system too often.
That fact becomes painfully apparent when he shows up at a computer firm to inquire about a job interview promised by an executive he met at a school job fair. Though the man said Angel could stop by any time, the receptionist gives him a very cold shoulder, and Angel is left clutching a now worthless business card and shaking with humiliation. This is how the world is going to treat him? So be it.
Writer/director Jim McKay, who has a few scruffy urban slices of life to his credit, including the searing Girls Town, shows much more than he tells and isn't afraid to parachute into Angel's life and then fly out again with no easy resolutions. Griffiths delivers a suitably frustrated performance, but the real find is Everett, who has few words to say and therefore has to act mainly with his eyes. He's up to the challenge. There will be no tearful embraces, no scholarships, no sudden lottery wins to wrap this one up. Angel's tough life will just go on.
He's my angel.