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
Reader Feedback - 5 Comments
Definitely interested in watching this after the guys at LatinoReview.com loved it and now so does Alex. It's good to finally have a movie that comes from the hood that doesn't feature dance moves.
Leo on Jan 20, 2009
Kinda reminds me of The Wackness from last year in tone and look alone...but it's probably completely different.
peloquin on Jan 20, 2009
Romero and Juliet, West Side Story and now Don't let me Drown. I hope this filmmaker has a chance to reedit this film. Parts were very good - especially the teen love story. However, other parts really detracted from the film. The two Dominican men were very stereotypical and the stereotype was offensive. While the Mexican American family was played with a lot of nuances, the script had the Dominican family cast as cardboard characters. One Dominican male was a pervert and the other did nothing but lounge around and then scream, yell and beat up folks. Also, not every janitor or janitor's son is stupid - if there is a reedit this film would benefit from a clean up of language and more nuanced performances on the part of Stephanie's family. The excessive use of low brow language and the lack of intelligent conversations in the Dominican family almost crippled the film.
Janette Johnson on Jan 21, 2009
I have to say this movie has really did touch me. It was very believable because even i live in new york. great movie.
Jackie on Jul 28, 2011
I felt a lot of elements in this film. Not just the portrayal of the Dominicans, sappy romance, and how they deal with the aftermath of 9-11. I saw themes of growing up with a strict and abusive father, poverty, teen pressure, having the loss of a loved one, sexual molestation, and finding your first love. Many of those themes are themes I could relate to. This film didn't have a lot of bells and whistles, and it didn't even have huge block buster actors, but it didn't need it to keep you interested and entertained. Well done.
Dsjones on Nov 18, 2011
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