The Bronx, summertime, 1993: Brendan (Jimi Stanton) is working hard at the local deli to support his brother and his alcoholic mother. Their fridge is always empty. He meets college-bound Eva (Princess Nokia), and even though she has a boyfriend back home in Puerto Rico, she agrees to hang out with him. He’s not the kind of boy her mother would approve of. His family isn’t the right kind of family. But sparks are sparks.

Director Peter Andrew Lee creates an excellent sense of time and place, the backdrop to a classic tale of a young couple from two completely different worlds, with a nuanced and specific point of view. The chemistry between Stanton and Nokia is undeniable but their story is anything but fresh. The film excels at making their respective neighbourhoods and cultures pop but the romance amid clashing backgrounds feels familiar and this retread contributes little to its genre other than unaffected performances by a young and talented cast.

Despite the shortcomings of the script, its emphasis on place rather than character, the film remains charismatic and compelling. Angelfish would have profited from a meatier plot and higher stakes, but it’s a tender and stirring feature debut from Lee. His film is as cautious as the courtship between our two star-crossed lovers, but the talent is there, and if Lee can strike out more audaciously next time, he’ll be a director to watch.

This film is part of the TIFF Next Wave film festival, Feb 14-16 2020.

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