September 3, 2020  (Web Review)

Angelfish

Dark Star Pictures, in English and Spanish w/English subtitles, 96 min., not rated, VOD: $3.99 (avail. on most digital platforms)

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

First-time feature director Peter Andrew Lee draws from a true story for this considerably less tragic take on Romeo and Juliet–or even West Side Story, but without the singing and dancing. Brendan (Jimi Stanton, The Punisher), 20, is a responsible young man who works in a grocery store deli section in the Bronx’s Kingsbridge quarter, circa the summer of 1993. He lives at home and looks after his teenage brother, Conor (Scott Simons), because his mother, Mary (Erin Davie), spends all of her time drinking, sleeping off her drinking, and picking up men. Brendan, whose father split the scene a long time ago, worries that Conor may be heading down the same path. Eva (Destiny Nicole Frasqueri, aka hip-hop artist Princess Nokia, in a strong debut), a customer who catches his eye, has a boyfriend in Puerto Rico, but he doesn’t know that when they meet. With her friends and family, who know about him, she speaks in Spanish. When Brendan runs into her at a movie a few days later, he offers to walk her home. He teases her when she says she plans to study accounting because he can tell her heart isn’t in it, and he’s right. She would rather act. She also looks after her brother, except Julio (Ivan Mendez) isn’t a kid. He’s a developmentally disabled adult. Soon, Brendan and Eva aren’t quite boyfriend and girlfriend, but they’re definitely more than friends. Mary doesn’t take the news well since she’s convinced that a woman from Marble Hill, the Bronx’s Puerto Rican quarter, could only be interested in Brendan under the mistaken impression that he has money. She’s wrong, of course, but just when it seems as if things couldn’t go better for the couple, they start to go very wrong. There’s an odd tension in the film that intensifies at this point as if one of the characters is about to kill or be killed. Angelfish isn’t that kind of film. There’s no attempted murder, but the relationship Brendan and Eva forces them to make the hard choices they’ve been putting off. The tone throughout is possibly too foreboding for the small-scale drama Lee intends, but his performers are up to the task, particularly Frasqueri, whose gentle, understated performance stands in opposition to her extroverted hip-hop image. Recommended. (K. Fennessy)