Unless you are a close follower of the festival indie circuit scene, you may have probably missed this wonder of a little film. Sean Baker’s Prince of Broadway, the low-budget critically acclaimed 2008 indie, has been available on DVD/VOD since last October, and is now streaming on Netflix. It’s a film released prior to S&A’s conception, but which we’ve profiled in the past.
It’s a shame this very underrated film deserving of an audience seems to have gone mostly unnoticed; perhaps eclipsed by the success of Lee Daniels’ Precious. Maybe audiences weren’t ready to embrace another gritty urban drama set in the streets of New York. What’s ironic is that Daniels attached his name to Prince after serving in the jury at the film’s premiere in the 2008 Independent Spirit Awards.
And it’s also a shame the film barely had a theater release; it ended up grossing a little over 20,000 in one theater.
Perhaps that’s partly due because the film’s cast is led by foreign, non-professional actors. The lead Lucky, played by Prince Adu (no correlation with film’s title) portrays a Ghanaian immigrant, who hustles and pushes counterfeit goods in the wholesale district of Broadway.
We see Lucky on his daily grind, flirting with various ladies on the streets to charm them into buying the latest knock-off brand name accessories and bags. Back at his flat in Washington Heights though, he enjoys his evenings with his girlfriend (Nigerian actress Adesuwa Addy Iyare), who he seems to have a stable and monogamous relationship with.
His world turns upside down when, while selling handbags to two Caucasian women, he gets a visit from a Nuyorican ex-fling Linda (Kat Sanchez) who’s with her 1 ½ year old toddler, and, unbeknownst to him, she claims her son is his. In this riveting and realistic sequence, she demands Lucky to take responsibility of him since she’s tired of raising him on her own. And, she pretty much dumps the kid off in his arms and flees with her boyfriend like a good mother should. I kid; there’s a backstory to her situation as well, which it’s not to say her choices are to be condoned, but that subplot is well acted and poignant, just like the rest of this film.
Hence Lucky’s dilemma, he doesn’t have a way to contact her and he’s on his left to deal with a baby who he doubts is even his and is unequipped to care for, plus he has to confront the situation with his girlfriend. And, to top it all off, he has no option but to take the baby with him to work. As an unlikely of a scenario it may seem in real life, the film pulls it off superbly.
This is as much as Lucky’s story as it is about the owner of the illicit business, Levon, a Lebanese immigrant played with compelling veracity yet subtle kindness by Karren Karagulian. He’s all business, yet you can see he has a soft spot for Lucky and his team. Levon lives with his younger girlfriend, who’s more into the party scene and resents her committed lifestyle with him. Great sequences follow as Levon’s insecurity and neurosis get the best of him as his love life and business are threatened; the latter risks legal ramifications, which include deportation.
Lucky and Devon possess a great dynamic here; their partnership/unlikely friendship transcends their seemingly distinct backgrounds, as well as the usual power dynamics boss/worker relationships pose.
Prince is as indie as indie gets. The nervous camera, the seemingly improvised sequences, the multi-ethnic characters, it all feels and breathes New York.
Lucky’s noticeable African accent, yet authentic New York City streetwise hustler persona, make him a peculiar character; yet, he exudes much charisma. But not only that, he earns your sympathy and respect wholeheartedly by the film’s end with the way he deals with his circumstances despite his limited resources and inexperience.
Prince reeks authenticity, a poignant drama sans clichéd sentimentality that ultimately, the subject of father and son could’ve easily veered into.
So, take it as a call to action if you will to watch Prince of Broadway; you won’t be disappointed.