August 24, 2015. The timing of my seeing writer and director Macdara Vallely’s very enjoyable film “Babygirl” could not have been more appropriate. I have just finished teaching a summer course at CUNY Queens College called “Sociology of Cinema.” The class focused on events occurring in society and how these events influenced the movies being made at different times.
One of the subjects covered was neorealism which, to put it succinctly, focuses on poor people living in the actual circumstances of the time in which a particular film was made (for example, in the case of Italian Neorealism, post WWII Italy). Neorealism also places an emphasis on the environments in which the stories take place – in particular run down sections of urban areas. I wanted to show how Italian Neorealism (an example being “Bicycle Thieves” – 1948) influenced films made in other cultures. To that end we screened the Indian film “Siddharth” (2013) and “Gimme the Loot” (2012), the latter being a film about cash strapped graffiti artists in New York City. Incidentally, “Siddharth” and “Gimme the Loot” are both on Netflix and are highly recommended.
“Babygirl” (now available on iTunes and VOD – Video On Demand) is a nice addition to the genre of modern day neorealism (and what could be more in keeping with the spirit of neorealism than the fact that “Babygirl” is being distributed on affordable platforms, such as iTunes and VOD, as opposed to having an expensive, per ticket, theatrical release?).
“Babygirl” is the story of Lena, a Bronx Nuyorican sixteen-year-old girl, who lives with her mother Lucy (Rosa Arrendondo), a woman who makes bad choices when it comes to men. Lucy already has a baby courtesy of one of these bad choices, not to mention that Lena herself is the result of a past relationship. As Lena’s friend Daishan (nicely played by Gleendilys Inoa) puts it, “Your Mom’s a slut. Deal with it,” to which Lean replies, “No, she’s just…lonely.” Arrendondo portrays Lucy as a nuanced character who, yes, may have made some bad choices, but who has also come to a certain realization about the realities of life.
Lena is played by radiant newcomer Yainis Ynoa who completely carries this film. Ynoa plays Lena with a naturalism that incorporates beauty, depth, intelligence, street smarts and naivte. Lena wants to stop her mother from going down yet another wrong road, with her latest boyfriend, Victor, (played with charismatic smarminess by Flaco Navaja) but, in the process, Lena winds up in over her head. The cast also includes Joshua Rivera as Xavier, a charmingly awkward pizza delivery boy who likes Lena.
Vallely, who is Irish, came up with the idea for “Babygirl” after witnessing an incident on a number 2 subway train. A young man, in his twenties, was attempting to flirt with a teenaged girl, who did not return his interest. So, instead the man turned his attention to the girl’s mother. When the three of them got off at a stop, Vallely wondered what happened next. His answer makes for a film that has characters who are authentic and complex. These characters are set against the background of the Bronx (we’re not exactly talking Riverdale here!) which has a beauty and rhythm all its own and, in a sense, becomes a vital character in the story. Some times an outsider can see and present a culture in a way that is fresh and captivating. Vallely has done this with “Babygirl.”
Posted on August 25, 2015, in New and tagged Babygirl, Bicycle Thieves, Flaco Navaja, Gimme the Loot, Gleendilys Inoa, Italian Neorealism, Joshua Rivera, Macdara Vallely, neorealism, Rosa Arrendondo, Siddharth, Yainis Ynoa. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.