Don’t Let Me Drown
Directed by Cruz Angeles
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 99 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: SDH Spanish
MSRP: $ 14.98
Release Date: October 5, 2010
Review Date: October 12, 2010
A story of young love sprung from the poverty and prejudice of post 9/11 New York, Don’t Let Me Drown does some things very right and some other things very wrong. Among the items on the positive side of the ledger are in the casting of the film and in capturing the accurate ambiance of the city in the weeks after the horrific events of that fateful day. On the other hand, the screenplay is too ambitious and touches on quite a few stories is simply doesn’t develop. The film’s first half hour is a trial to endure as every single character uses sarcasm and putdowns as his conversational motif, something that may be close to the way things really are but doesn’t make for particularly enjoyable or edifying art. The central couple of the film draws our attention with their natural chemistry and awkward advances into young love, but the world around them, while also potentially interesting, just isn’t developed enough and gets terribly in the way.
Lalo (E.J. Bonilla) spies Stefanie (Gleendilys Inoa) across the park in Brooklyn, and it’s love at first sight for him. Though he naturally turns her off early on with his awkward attempts at cool (and an embarrassing urination incident), she soon warms to him, but she has to be careful because her father (Ricardo Antonio Chavira) does not champion his young daughter’s search for love, and both her father and mother (Gina Torres) are still grieving over losing their beloved college graduate daughter when the Towers collapsed.
Cruz Angeles’ script co-written with Maria Topete certainly gets the bumps and bruises of young love right with break-ups and make-ups as part and parcel of the story, even when Angeles’ stages their break-up very awkwardly in the school’s hallway. At other moments, however, he captures that thrill and exhilaration of first love with zest, especially in a sequence set at Coney Island that is by far the best thing in the movie. The script introduces more subplots than it has any time for, and they’re all unsatisfying: Lalo’s janitor father (Damian Alcazar) as part of the Tower clean-up crew coming home each night coughing up asbestos and blood, the family’s struggle with finances, the abusive marriage of Stefanie’s parents and the sexual advances of the father’s best friend on the young Stefanie, the prejudicial feelings between African-Americans, Mexicans, and Dominicans. The verbal abuse each of the characters heaps upon one another in the normal course of a day is quite debilitating, from the teens messing with one another through the adults haranguing each other and their kids with tons of trash talk. While it may be reality, it makes for rather tiresome drama inevitably.
Both of the young lovers are attractive and appealing especially E.J. Bonilla who handles the ups and downs of this first taste of love with understandable and identifiable perplexity. Ricardo Antonio Chavira and Gina Torres are the most familiar faces in the film, and they’re both on solid ground with their intense approach (to put it mildly) to parenting. Yareli Arizmendi’s struggles to make ends meet certainly ring true while Raul Castillo as Lalo’s vulgarian uncle (whose major scene in the movie is giving his nephew tips about giving women sexual pleasure with risking pregnancy) and Adrian Martinez as the creepy Little Joe with the hots for Stefanie also make memorable appearances.
The film has been framed at 1.78:1 and is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. Sharpness is above average but never quite as razor-edged as the best DVD transfers. Scenes in lower light up the grain quotient considerably and crush blacks quite dramatically. Color is solidly reproduced with accurate flesh tones. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track doesn’t wring a lot of surround ambience out of its Brooklyn, Bronx, and Manhattan locations. The surrounds are mainly used for the hip-hop songs and background score of Daniel Belardinelli. When the young actors speak up, their voices come through clearly in the center channel, but some of them do tend to mutter which isn’t picked up especially well in the direct recording.
The film’s theatrical trailer is presented in anamorphic widescreen and runs 2 ¼ minutes.
There are also trailers for Rain, Perfect Combination, and Just Another Day.
3/5 (not an average)
The young teen love story with its mixture of angst and purity is by far the best aspect of the otherwise messily constructed and sometimes unsatisfying Don’t Let Me Drown.