REVIEW: Prince of Broadway

20 05 2017

The working class appear a decent amount in contemporary cinema, but few directors take the time to understand their world like Sean Baker. His technique is more than just an aesthetic superiority of neorealism or “poverty porn” meant to coddle the bleeding hearts of the audience. Baker gets down into the weeds and grapples with poverty on its own terms, examining how getting dealt a single bad hand can trigger a cascade of negative outcomes.

At the beginning of “Prince of Broadway,” the Queens street vendor Lucky (Prince Adu) sees his life take such a turn when an old girlfriend shoves a baby into his arms. She needs childcare for two weeks for some unexplained reason while she jumps town, and we get the sense that Lucky is her last resort. Not only does he have no parenting skills under his boat, but he lives by the seat of his pants hocking off-brand designer bags and, as an undocumented immigrant from Ghana, Lucky can scarcely fall back on a network of extended family to shoulder the burden of watching the baby.

Leaving an ill-equipped individual in possession of a baby has classically entailed the trappings of comedy (“Three Men and a Baby”) or poignant drama (“Kramer vs. Kramer”) … so long as the protagonist comes from means. In “Prince of Broadway,” the same inciting incident triggers the basic mechanisms of economic survival as Lucky wonders how to feed, house and monitor his son. The sacrifices and trade-offs he must make in order to fulfill the most basic human compassion to the young life in his care involve his very livelihood.

Baker understands that a story as seemingly commonplace as this one in Lucky’s world cannot involve mere transposition from an upper-middle-class milieu. Every decision carries enormous weight. Every event comes with massive aftershocks, many of which cannot be met with adequate preparation. He’s taken the time to understand the mechanics of Lucky’s situation, and while “Prince of Broadway” might not necessitate its full 100 minute runtime (subplots involving his boss could easily have been streamlined), there’s not a moment that does not demonstrate his empathetic eye for detail. B

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