Film Review: Falling Awake

<i>Falling Awake</i>, the movie title, is more thought-provoking than <i>Falling Awake</i>, the movie.

With Falling Awake, single-name writer-director Agustin gives us a pastiche of those ’70s coming-of-age films Saturday Night Fever and Walk Proud, which wouldn’t be so bad if he had collaborated on a better script. Thankfully, his young cast gives the drama much-needed gravitas.

Box-office prospects look poor for such a weak film, despite the presence of up-and-coming star Jenna Dewan. Those looking for a more dignified, dimensional portrait of young Latino culture should check out Allison Anders’ Mi Vida Loca.

Dewan is not even the focus of the story, set in the Bronx, where a struggling Latino musician, Jay (Andrew Cisneros), feels torn between his love of music and his loyalty to his family, including his hot-headed father (Nestor Serrano), who wants his son to join a well-paying doorman union, and his brother (Nicholas Gonzalez), a returning war vet with PSTD. He is further distracted when he meets the wiser and wealthier Alessandra (Dewan).

A pair of stolen designer sneakers (yes, sneakers!) becomes the locus of a neighborhood gang war, with Jay once again caught in the middle. Eventually, Jay sees his new girlfriend as a way out of the tough life he is living.

Agustin’s screenplay (written with Doug Klozzner) follows the well-tread formula of earlier gang films (not to mention The Jazz Singer and Golden Boy) and is filled with awful, unconvincing dialogue. To wit, the film opens with a breakfast scene that devolves into an angry debate about America’s occupation in Iraq. As the corn(y)flakes fly, the anti-war message takes hold, but it is presented so obviously and clumsily, it becomes instantly laughable. This is followed by the obligatory party scene, fight scene, brother-going-nuts scene, and hero’s nightclub-debut scene. There’s even a walk and ride through the subway montage following a fight with the girlfriend (“You don’t understand anything about me!”).

Considering what they are working with, the cast members do fairly well. Except for his musical performance at the club (which appears badly post-dubbed) and his action-hero gambit in the climax, Cisneros emerges as a potential star, with his good looks and mixture of toughness and innocence. Dewan is also attractive and has a few moments of her own, though her handwringing girlfriend is clichéd to the point of annoying. The actors playing the hero’s young friends are also appealing in their limited parts, but Serrano and Gonzalez overact outrageously.

Despite the slow pacing, Agustin’s direction is considerably better than his writing and he is aided immeasurably by cinematographer Mark Schwartzbard, editor Michael Spence and production designer A.R. Brook Lynn. However, what should have been a definite highlight, the score, is comprised of forgettable songs and repetitive guitar snatches by composer Johnny Juice Rosado.

Falling Awake isn’t completely soporific, but it hardly inspires or enlightens.