DON’T LET ME DROWN (2009)
Starring EJ Bonilla, Gleendilys Inoa, Damian Alcazar, Yareli Arizmendi, Gina Torres, Ricardo Antonio Chavira, Dennis Kellum, Raul Castillo and Adrian Martinez.
Screenplay by Maria Topete and Crus Angeles.
Directed by Crus Angeles.
Distributed by Image Entertainment. 105 minutes. Rated R.
Don’t Let Me Drown is a surprisingly good little picture which is working on several levels at once and mostly doing it extremely well.
It works pretty well as a modern Romeo & Juliet-type love story. It works very well as an inner city family drama. And it works excellently as a look at New York trying to cope in the shadow of the World Trade Center disaster.
Don’t Let Me Drown is set in Brooklyn a mere month after this historic disaster and this proximity to the complete horror of the day gives all the parts of the movie surprising drama and gravity.
Now, after a triumphant run of the festivals and a stint on HBO (sadly the film never saw any kind of wide theatrical release) the movie is being offered on video. Hopefully it will not escape the audiences’ attention yet again, because it does deserve to be seen.
Don’t Let Me Drown tells the story of two families living in Brooklyn who were each affected by the disaster in different ways. One is a Black-Dominican family which is struggling through anger and pain after their oldest daughter is missing and presumed dead in the building collapse. The other is a poor Mexican family who is struggling to make ends meet as the father – a former janitor at the Centers – spends his days and his health working to clean up the rubble and search for bodies.
Granted, the World Trade Center sections are mostly in the background of the story, but what happened on that day suffuses and steers most everything which happens.
The foreground of the story, sadly, is probably the least interesting – the opposites-attract romantic connection between the youngest daughter of the family in mourning and the son of the janitor who is hijacked by fate into excavating for bodies. They have to hide their relationship from their families due to prejudice and an insanely over-protective father.
The two characters are both likable enough; however the Romeo & Juliet in the big city scenario is one that has been played out dozens of times over the decades since West Side Story. In fact, just a few months ago, I saw nearly the exact same storyline in another small overlooked movie called Homeland, though it was played out with different ethnicities (Israeli and Palestinian there.) Drown is an even better movie than the still quite good Homeland, but the romantic subplot of the new film is not nearly as though-provoking as its other sections.
The family dramas have more meat to them. The boy’s family is barely making ends meet as his father is nearly killing himself working – and his mother is constantly striving for ways to stretch a buck. The girl’s family is struggling through the trauma of the lost sister – mom and dad can barely speak civilly to each other and the dad has become incredibly over-protective of his remaining daughter.
However, it is the World Trade Center segments which really pack a wallop. Whether it is the janitor father having violent coughing fits after long days spent in the excavation site or a quiet scene of the mother and father tearfully watching an old video of their late daughter’s college graduation, the events of September 11, 2001 cast a tragic pall over everything which happens in these people’s lives.
All of this is done with an almost completely unknown cast. The two leads are doing their first starring roles in film and only Gina Torres of Huge and Ricardo Chavira of Desperate Housewives are likely to be well known amongst viewers – and they are in supporting roles – important supporting roles, but supporting roles nonetheless.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 13, 2010.