Sundance 2009 Review: Cruz Angeles' Don't Let Me Drown
by Alex Billington
January 20, 2009
Due to fervent encouragement from the guys at Latino Review, I decided to catch a screening of Don't Let Me Drown, a 2001 Brooklyn set coming-of-age drama. I'm glad I did, because I loved it. While the film isn't anything particularly new (like 500 Days of Summer) and takes a little while to first get going, it is a very funny and still very emotional and charming look at a few teenagers living in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. I'm not entirely sure why, but when I finally got into the story, I found myself laughing out loud at every funny moment and happily smiling at the wonderful romantic scenes.
Don't Let Me Drown is essentially about two Latino teens from Brooklyn. Lalo (E.J. Bonilla) and his friend are living in a changed New York, just one month after the September 11th attacks. He meets Stefanie (Gleendilys Inoa) at a birthday party and starts to spend time with her, slowly falling in love. The story follows their own relationship struggles, involving parental issues and emotional pressure. Lalo's father used to work as a janitor at the World Trade Center but is now helping clean up. Stefanie lost her sister and now her father struggles to keep his cool. It's a fairly simple story that's executed well.
At the start, I wasn't really expecting to laugh at all in this. But it's those comical moments that actually really made it stand out in the end. They're not out of place and they don't detract from the overall more emotional story found within the depths of Don't Let Me Drown, but the quirky reality of these kinds of teens often makes for some hilarious scenes. In the end I found myself just falling in love with the film because it was such a great story of love. These two teens are drowning in an excess of emotion and pressure coming from everyone around them, yet they still find a way to fall in love and live their life.
Newcomer E.J. Bonilla in particular steals the show, and if it weren't for him, this wouldn't have been as wonderful as it was. His character is not the stereotypical Latino, but a more realistic representation, and I think that's what makes him so likable in the end. Definitely a film Cruz Angeles should be very proud of making.
Sundance Rating: 9 out of 10