(After a wildly successful film festival run that began when it won the Target Award at the 2008 Los Angeles Film Festival, Prince of Broadway was finally released theatrically on September, 3, 2010, by Elephant Eye Films and is now available on DVD through New Video. Visit the film’s official website to find out when it’s playing near you.)
It’s hard to make more astute observations about the work of writer/director Sean Baker than the ones that have been made in piece after piece about his last film, Take Out. But, with the coming of his next work, I’m going to try. His latest, Prince of Broadway, is the simple story of a self-proclaimed Ghanaian hustler whose life is turned upside down when his ex-girlfriend Linda stiffs him with their baby to raise. But in the hands of an intelligent and witty filmmaker like Baker, Prince of Broadway is anything but simple.
In many ways, Prince of Broadway belongs to a camp of movies that is rapidly writing its own history. Alongside films like Gavin Hood’s Tsotsi, Jan Sverák’s Kolya and The Dardenne Brothers’ L’Enfant, it tells the story of an inept, misguided older man forced to take care of a baby. Together, both man and child mature through their relationship with each other, often resulting in both hilarity and tragedy. But what sets Baker’s film apart is the shockingly honest humanity he portrays along the way. There’s no glamour to his characters’ lives, no cutesy moments where they learn universal truths, no glitzy art direction that idealizes their world, no nail-biting chases where the child is used as a prop for monetary gain. No, Baker’s film exists in the real world, where undeveloped “children” are often forced to raise children of their own through the unglamorous day-to-day grind.
I still haven’t seen Take Out, but from everything I’ve read, Prince of Broadway seems like a logical next step. The aforementioned humanity allows Baker to discuss things like illegal immigration through the course of a pre-established cinematic construct, in this case the one of an immature man who must deal with a child that has been thrust upon him. It’s as if he is building off the shoulders of Hood, Sverák and The Dardennes to make something much more poignant and timely by using the themes he’s already prepared in his previous work. Much like Michael Haneke does in Cache, Baker matures as a filmmaker by employing greater subtlety to his work, letting what he wants to say come out of the subtext of the story as opposed to ever directly mentioning it.
Stylistically, the beautiful digital video look adds to the simplicity of the piece, allowing the drama of the characters’ lives to speak for itself and ride its own natural arch. Many of the scenes are played for a surprising and often comedic effect. Characters will take a dramatic shift in tone (in one standout scene, a couple’s argument quickly turns from seemingly playful to nasty). Even the way Lucky first receives Prince seems like a comedy of errors as Linda asks Lucky to hold him for a second and then takes off out the door. It’s as if Baker could find the drama of a wall being painted and make it kinetic, unexpected and cinematically original with a pixel-vision camera.
I would be remiss if I finished without mentioning the fantastic performance by Prince Adu. Never has a street hustler been more charismatically self-serving. Like Bruno Ganz’s Hitler or James Gadolfini’s Tony Soprano, Adu’s performance will go down in the books as one of those astonishing pieces of acting that makes a man out of a monster. This time around, Baker is not only showing off his first rate directing skills; he’s showcasing Adu alongside him.
— Michael Lerman