A lit­tle ‘Prince’ leaves a last­ing im­pres­sion

The life of a cloth­ing hus­tler in New York is turned up­side down when fa­ther­hood is thrust upon him.

Los Angeles Times - - Movies - KEN­NETH TU­RAN FILM CRITIC

“Prince of Broad­way” thinks out­side the box. It’s an un­de­ni­ably small yet al­most in­de­fin­able film, warm­hearted and bit­ter­sweet, laced with both hu­mor and tough emo­tions. Plus it has a kind of bi­coastal ap­peal.

Though it won the grand jury prize at the 2008 Los An­ge­les Film Fes­ti­val and was a nom­i­nee for the 2009 In­de­pen­dent Spirit Awards’ John Cas­savetes nod, “Prince” owes a lot of its al­lure to its very New York sit­u­a­tion and state of mind.

As di­rected by Sean Baker, “Prince” greatly ben­e­fits from its gritty ciné­mavérité set­ting on the edges of Man­hat­tan’s whole­sale fashion district, a place where street-level cloth­ing hus­tlers try to make a few dol­lars on the far side of the law.

“Prince’s” script is cred­ited to Baker and Dar­ren Dean, but an on-screen mes­sage tells us that the di­a­logue “was re­al­ized through im­pro­vi­sa­tion and a col­lab­o­ra­tive process with all ac­tors.”

What that means in prac­tice is that the film’s un­cen­sored in­di­vid­u­als speak with the un­mis­tak­able tang of au­then­tic­ity, giv­ing us di­a­logue that per­fectly cap­tures the spirit and in­ti­macy of ur­ban street pro­fan­ity.

As with Baker’s pre­vi­ous work, “Take Out,” set in the world of im­mi­grants who de­liver food for New York’s ubiq­ui­tous Chi­nese restau­rants, “Prince” takes us to places that most films, in­clud­ing in­de­pen­dents, don’t have the gump­tion to ven­ture and in­tro­duces us to life as it is lived there.

Though its ti­tle turns out to have sev­eral ref­er­ence points, it orig­i­nally ap­plies to Lucky, an African-born cloth­ing hus­tler (played by Prince Adu, who is sim­i­larly em­ployed in real life) who works near Lower Man­hat­tan’s Flat­iron Build­ing.

A self-de­scribed “sales­man with a de­gree from the School of Broad­way,” Lucky has full com­mand of the talk of the trade. “Don’t be scared, beau­ti­ful, I don’t bite,” he says to the women who pass by. “See what I got. Ev­ery­thing you need, I got it all: Coach, Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuit­ton.”

When po­ten­tial cus­tomers suc­cumb, as they of­ten do, Lucky takes them to the back room of a store run by his boss, Levon (Kar­ren Karag­u­lian), where knock­off mer­chan­dise is sold at cut-rate prices. It’s not a glam­orous life, but Lucky is do­ing fine and is con­tent.

Then, out of nowhere, a for­mer girl­friend named Linda (Kat Sanchez) ap­pears and thrusts an 18month-old into Lucky’s arms. “Be a re­spon­si­ble fa­ther,” she says as she lit­er­ally walks away. “That’s your son, and I need you to stay with him for a cou­ple of weeks.”

As­ton­ish­ment is a mild word for the way Lucky, who is not at all con­vinced that he is in­deed the fa­ther of a child who looks noth­ing like him, feels at this turn of events.

Flum­moxed, flab­ber­gasted, com­pletely at sea when it comes to deal­ing with chil­dren — “You don’t touch my stuff,” he tells the un­com­pre­hend­ing tod­dler when he brings him home — Lucky strives to make the best out of a sit­u­a­tion that com­pletely de­ranges his work, his girl­friend Ka­rina (Keyali Mayaga) and ev­ery as­pect of his life.

Aside from the com­pletely nat­u­ral per­for­mance by Adu, “Prince of Broad­way” suc­ceeds as well as it does be­cause of how eas­ily Ai­den Noesi, who plays the tod­dler, takes to the screen. The real-life son of ac­tress Sanchez, young Ai­den is a re­mark­ably self-pos­sessed and un­flap­pable lit­tle per­son with a serene face we never get tired of.

Though it’s to be ex­pected that one of the themes of “Prince of Broad­way” is the tenac­ity of the Amer­i­can dream, this film also in­ves­ti­gates the un­ex­pected, and not al­ways wel­come, ways that kids trans­form lives. When Linda shows no sign of want­ing her son back, Lucky has to de­cide who is lucky af­ter all and what it re­ally means to be the Prince of Broad­way. ken­neth.tu­ran@latimes .com

NOW WHAT? Prince Adu stars as a sales­man whose ex-girl­friend un­ex­pect­edly drops off her son.

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