Washington Heights Movie Review

When are directors and screenwriters going to learn to take their time in telling a story? That you don't need two million events and people to create a compelling narrative? OK, anyone else aside from Miguel Arteta and Mike White (the directing/writing team behind The Good Girl and Chuck & Buck).

Director Alfredo De Villa is another director who hasn't learned that lesson and his film, Washington Heights, is a stampede of characters and subplots that has no hope of being corralled into a cohesive story.

That's too bad because there is an array of potentially fascinating characters among the titular Dominican NYC neighborhood. The lead character is Carlos (Manny Perez), a talented illustrator who yearns to create his own comic book. But his work, Carlos' boss says, lacks passion. This conflict would have made for a good movie, an interesting variation of the artist finding himself -- Chasing Amy without the lesbian and Jersey connections. Alas, that isn't to be.

De Villa and his crew of three other writers introduce characters and then promptly forget where the heart of the story is. There's Carlos' father (Tomas Milian), a promiscuous widower and bodega owner, who rules Washington Heights; Carlos' girlfriend, Maggie (Andrea Navedo), a talented dress maker with deadly family ties; and Carlos' goofy, white friend, Mickey (Danny Hoch, probably furious that Michael Rapaport has been stealing his roles the last 10 years).

Those characters all bring subplots, but they don't mesh into Carlos's main conflict. Or they do, but De Villa and his writing team treat the issues like they're working at a MASH unit. Carlos's confrontation with his paraplegic father, which should be cathartic, comes up dry because there are problems with Maggie, but that gets pushed out of the way to make room for Mickey's dream of entering a bowling tournament, which moves aside because Carlos is resentful for having to run his father's store.

We don't get a good look into what makes Carlos tick because De Villa is too busy moving on to another set of problems. Conflicts between the characters are so rushed and sudden that you never feel like anyone is facing any true emotional issue. It's more like the momentum of story requirements is hurling them into it. Violent and romantic confrontations, including the finale, don't feel authentic. Washington Heights is continually in crisis mode. That's great if you're Michael Bay, but not if you're trying to serve up an alternative to the superior Raising Victor Vargas, another Upper East Side character study.

De Villa tries to give the movie an authentic look by using what appears to be a digital camera and using a lot of extraneous close-ups and shaky camerawork. Those maneuvers only highlight how desperate he and his crew are to please, to be urban-authentic. There is a story to be told among the characters and the setting of Washington Heights, all you have to deal is dig through the detritus. It should be there. Somewhere.

My kind of party.


Comments

Washington Heights Rating

" Grim "

Rating: R, 2003

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