Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Where God Left His Shoes - But Not His Screenplay

Most of Where God Left His Shoes is a grim slog into ever deepening poverty with Frank Diaz (John Leguizamo) and his family. Frank is a boxer who loses his shot at the big time when he fails to answer the bell. The family is evicted from public housing and moves to a homeless shelter. Frank works as a day laborer who can't fight back when cheated by his boss (Jerry Ferrara - in nasty Turtle mode). A chance for a new apartment is lost when Frank needs to prove he's employed. He can't get a job "on the books" because he's an illiterate, convicted felon. Frank is evicted from the homeless shelter...Starting to get the idea?
Just when the audience begins to suspect it's a focus group for an obscure torture developed by laid off Gitmo contractors, the film begins to find itself. A Christmas Eve father-son job hunt ends with a few genuine, and very moving, moments in which Frank's relationship with his sometimes smart mouthed step son Justin (David Castro) crystallizes into an extraordinary bond. This single golden strand is quickly woven into a confrontation with Justin's biological father and then a warm family scene on the subway, which features the film's only humor. (As Good As News will gladly spoil a bad plot, but we will not give away the only funny thing that happens in this movie, just keep your eye on the candy bar with the peanuts). Finally (understatement is our watchword), the film ends abruptly, locking into the family uber alles theme it has developed in a last minute rush. A merciful ending, because something had to be done to stop this film, but one slightly less satisfactory than a power failure at the theater.

What went wrong? For starters, too much unleavened bad news. Only disaster befalls Frank, who makes Job look like a lottery winner. Even Frank's hopes (new apartment, job with the City) are false. Only a family food tossing contest, staged by Frank to raise morale, penetrates the gloom that pervades the first two thirds of this movie. A disaster or two, or six - no problem in the service of a good story, but please, mix it up a little. Then, let's get real. Where's Aid to Families With Dependent Children? Why is the patriarch of the construction business that employs Frank so slow to follow his own instincts, overrule his creepy and callow son and give Frank a break? Why can't Frank's wife Angela (Leonor Varela -who is presumably not an illiterate convicted felon) work while Frank watches the kids, or at least take a job for long enough to get the family into City housing again? Where do you find homeless shelters that mingle families with single men? An unrelenting stream of bad news is risky. An unrealistic, unrelenting stream of bad news is a bad movie.

This film had a chance to work. A restrained Mr. Leguizamo chews no scenery here, doing yeoman work in a lost cause. He and David Castro, a kid with adult chops, provide some extraordinary scenes together. The final scene on the subway captures real warmth with humor, but it's too little, too late. Don't even rent this one.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like this movie. All the points about what this family could done to improve their situation, I get that. I guess I'll never make a good movie critic, but when it comes to movies with a good story, and even a little tug at the heart (so sue me) I'll buy it every time. Most important I came to really appreciate John Leguizamo's performance. Really good.