Movie Review By: Bryan Fox / Blogger

Jay, played with tons of debutant charisma by Andy Cisernos, has got a lot on his plate in the Bronx.  A hard-nosed, hard-working father who wants him out of the house because he won’t pay to support another ‘parasite’ after his brother is dishonorably discharged from the Marines and sent home from Iraq with a burgeoning alcohol problem and raging PTSD.  A girl who falls for him against apparent odds but needs someone to lean on when her grandmother, her only real family, passes away.  A jittery thug from ‘round the way with monomaniacal designs on a pair of new kicks Jay procured in exchange for letting a guy from up the block store a crime-used van in the gas station garage where Jay works the night shift.  And some Harlem ‘hoods with whom he seems to cross paths an inordinate number of times in a city of 8 million after a random altercation during a house party at the film’s outset ends in chest-bumping and a quick, foreboding flash of steel.  Got all that? 

If there’s one significant shortcoming to “Shine On”, it’s simply that the film threatens to cave in under the weight of its myriad subplots.  Perhaps a slick, one-hour drama slotted in after “The OC” could address in two seasons what this film attempts to cover in just under 110 minutes. 

The movie is not without minor flaws as well.  There are a few too many cinematically timed rainfalls (any number greater than zero generally being classified as ‘too many’ in this category), and several occasions where the soundtrack, comprised largely of pleasant –enough acoustic songs written and performed by Cisernos, tells us exactly what to feel – “I like you”, playing over and over when Jay and girl Alessandra (Jenna Deman) share their first kiss, “What a day for dying young”, the portentous refrain before the climactic fight scene (so portentous, in fact, it basically gives away what’s going to happen). 

The dialogue, though on the whole appropriately witty and weighty, is not without its clichéd throwaway lines: Jay’s brooding brother Eddie, drunk and leaning against the wall of a bodega: “Ain’t nothin’ good in the ‘hood”.  Jay, after being attacked on his own stoop by the Harlem crew: “When I walk down the street, all I got is respect, and when I lose that, I got nothing.” 

But, to be fair, this is a first screenplay by the singularly-named Augustin, and he does a lot of things right – the majority of the dialogue is so natural it feels less scripted than the average reality show, and he wisely avoids the easy temptation of playing the race card regarding the repeated and escalating violence between Jay’s crew and the Harlem lot; even though the ‘Boriuca vs. Bloods’ line is there for the taking, this film is much more about turf than race.  It’s also about transcending one’s environment, with a hint of “Do the Right Thing”s ‘protagonist trying to do good in a bad, bad place’ despair.  Ultimately, though, the film’s salvation is the overall abundance of energy by nearly every key figure on the screen.  Its indiscretions become largely forgivable when the action is played out by such a dynamic cast.

The movie is carried along by the natural chemistry between Jay and his two closest boys, the lanky, sharp-tongued Mafi (Flaco Navaja), and the husky, short-tempered Lucho (Michael Rivera).  Though the actors did not know each other before the film, and only spent a month together before shooting began, they come off like three kids who played on the same Little League team, had crushes on the same fifth-grade girl, five-fingered caramelos from the same bodega.  And the majority of the actors here seem to be playing largely-unaltered versions of themselves, which is often a lot harder to do well than it would seem, though most here seem to pull it off with aplomb. 

There is something playfully anachronistic about this film – elements of Tony Manero and his crew abound in Jay and his foils Lucho and Mafi, from the latter’s playful over-gesticulation during stoopfront conversations to the juvenile post-date ‘Didja get some?’ ribbing of Jay after he begins his relationship with Alessandra. 

The profusion of violent run-ins (some almost comically stylized, as evidenced by the audience’s laughter) seems too excessive to be ignored in present-day New York, if we are meant to assume that this is the Bronx in 2008 and not the borough during the vigilante justice epoch that was the early eighties.  There’s even a theatrical ‘race to the open door of a waiting subway car after a run-in with the bad guys’ sequence at one point, replete with jumped turnstiles and flustered city cops hot on the trail.  It almost left me waiting for that staged jump off the Brooklyn Bridge under cover of night. 

Cisernos, who seemed genuinely moved by the warm reception that the screening (the film’s first) received, said to me afterwards that the thing which most worried him was the Bronx accent he felt he needed to adopt and the fact that, as a native Californian, he hadn’t pulled it off.  But the beauty of contemporary New York is that the only place New Yorkers sound like “New Yorkers” is in movies – he needn’t have worried.  The rest of the cast in attendance seemed both gracious and sincere, which leaves you wishing them well in their nascent careers.  When asked, however, by one audience member about the significance of the film’s title, the answer given by producer Andrew Adelson was less than convincing: “We don’t really know, actually – and we are still shopping the film.  So if you can think of something better, let us know!”  Paintings and poems can be named without regard to subject matter, but a feature film has to do a bit better than that, guys…

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