Far from a picture postcard, the New York of Sean Baker’s wonderful Prince of Broadway throbs with life. It is gritty, noisy, vibrant and, like the city itself, wholly enthralling. There’s an intoxicating energy even along the grungiest of side streets. A collision of cultures and classes, it’s just the kind of place a fast-talking Ghanaian immigrant like Lucky might carve out his little storefront slice of the American Dream.

By day, Lucky hustles New York bargain shoppers into the back rooms of businesses where they can choose from a candy store-like variety of counterfeit goods: jewelry, purses, sunglasses, shoes. He’s a true capitalist, a middleman uniting supply and demand under the watchful eyes of the authorities. At night, Lucky likes to take it easy, sleeping with his girlfriend or smoking a little pot with friends in his tiny apartment. It’s a simple, bottom-rung yet hopeful and happy life that is turned upside down when a former girlfriend leaves Lucky a 2-year-old boy she claims is his.

In hands more eager to please, this timeworn setup up could easily have devolved into cutesy Three Men and a Baby territory, but in the same way he spun the simple story of Take Out into movie gold, Baker uses some familiar tropes to launch into an engaging character piece and a rich cinematic essay on the fringes of New York.

Working largely from a script written through improvisation, first time actor Prince Adu embodies hard-working Lucky with great charisma, infectious humor and a gruff but endearing kindness that instantly wins you over to his side. He’s kind of an urban cousin to Souleymane Sy Savane’s impossible-not-to-like Senegalese taxi driver in Ramin Bahrani’s terrific Goodbye Solo. The movie depends almost entirely on Adu’s performance and he makes it work with a purity, believability and lack of self-consciousness you might not get from a more polished performer.

As it is with Bahrani, it’s tempting to compare Baker’s work to the stripped down Italian neorealist cinema that gave us such films as Rome Open City, The Bicycle Thief and Bitter Rice – the tiny budgets, the hand-held camerawork, the lower class milieu – but Baker and Bahrani are nimbler, less heavy-handedly political, less likely to reach for easy emotions and seemingly more interested in the microcosm of individuals than in the examinations of types. No arthouse museum pieces, these. Films like Prince of Broadway are invigorating expressions of real life; messy, chaotic and not always predictable but deeply enlightening and completely satisfying.

Prince of Broadway. USA 2008 (opened theatrically in 2010). Directed, photographed and edited by Sean Baker (he also did the lit it and did the sound design for those of you keeping score at home). Screenplay by Sean Baker and Darren Dean. Musical direction by Joe Rudge and Matthew Smith. Starring Prince Adu, Karren Karaguilian, Aiden Noesi, Kat Sanchez, Keyali Mayaga, Victoria Tate, Edwin Norteye, Edward “Punky” Pagan and Mohamad H. Bzeih. 1 hour 42 minutes. Unrated by the MPAA. 4.5 stars (out of 5)

11 Responses to “Prince of Broadway (2010)”

  1. This sounds great. The description alone has me hankering to visit New York again soon. I love that sense of the myriad untold stories there in the hustle and bustle of the streets, and the countless personalities and passions they contain.

  2. Good news, and passionate account here. I was offered a preview to this weeks back, but was unable to attend due to my seashore trip. I remember that Baker had done a great job with the film set in Chinatown, which I know you liked quite a bit yourself. I’ll definitely check this out over this Labor Day weekend.

  3. I don’t think mr baker really has any compation for people like.me To me he has made my life worse by his lies . I wrote my story for him gave my home and my life but all he does is use me. I wish I never met him.

  4. How do we know you’re really the guy from the movie? You were great in it, by the way. Are you saying you were taken advantage of by the filmmaker?

  5. of cause he just called yesterday and said they can’t even affod to send me to la or chicago mean while month ago he called and asked me to get ready. Even though he’s broken all his promises in the past, I humbly did everything he’s asked me to do. As an illegal and a person who has nobody. In life, I feel that all he wanted was the movie and did not care about the fact that I’m a human and has feeling just like him. Thanks for giving me a voice. God bless.

  6. It’s a shame if you feel taken advantage of in some way. Without knowing the whole story, all I can say is that Prince of Broadway is a very inexpensive film that probably isn’t going to make very much money in theaters.

    As a fan of both the film and of your performance in it, it makes me sad you’re unhappy about it.

  7. In life money is not everything but honesty, respect and above all love of your fellow human no matter race colour or religion. This is why I love this country. If you are me then maybe you can feel it. Oh you can’t go to your premeir cause you re a hustler, illegal, black etc.prince of broadway is me an illegal who has no hope in life but a responsible dad of two wonderful boy. I believe no matter what I am. I will do a better job selling this film. All babies are beautiful. God doesn’t create ugly babies.

  8. Like I said, you were great in the movie and I hope a lot of people discover it.

  9. I actually missed this at a film festival a couple of years ago, it was one of the ones I was most excited about, and then my schedule got screwed up at the last minute. Imagine my surprise when I notice I.Sat (a network owned by Turner Broadcasting here) was airing it. I absolutely loved it. One of my favorites of the year, and Adu was perfect as Lucky.

  10. Outstanding!

  11. The stone the builders rejected.

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