“Wholesale, wholesale, Louis Vuitton, Coach, Prada, got everything,” croons Lucky (Prince Adu), his patter and easy charm his livelihood, coaxing customers in from the street to a shop owned by his boss Levon (Karren Karagulian), one whose back room is stacked with counterfeit purses, sneakers and clothing. A Ghanian immigrant in New York without a green card or a visa, Lucky plays at gangster swagger — “I’m hustlin’ like fuck,” he boasts — but he’s a teddy bear at heart, proud of and pleased with the life he’s carving out for himself, with his rented room, his girl, his roll of cash and friends with which to smoke pot and shoot the shit.
And so we’re not that concerned when his ex Linda (Kat Sanchez) tracks him down and leaves his with a toddler she insists is his, telling him that she needs him to take care of his son for a few weeks, and then a few more, while Lucky sputters and struggles and claims all the while that he’s not the boy’s father. Irresponsible-guy-suddenly-put-in-charge-of-a-child has become a basic indie film template, and inevitably the man softens and grows and comes to terms with his responsibilities. While “Prince of Broadway” is dry-eyed and stoutly neorealist, with much of its dialog improvised, it’s also not a dark exploration of neglect. Lucky’s absurdly ill-suited to care for a kid, and he’s never an enthusiastic guardian, but he can’t bring himself to just walk away despite the chaos the boy’s presence wreaks on his life.
Adu, who is, like much of the cast, a nonprofessional actor, has charisma to burn, but his scenes with the kid are some of this otherwise wonderful film’s weakest, his exasperation and self-pity quickly becoming repetitive and tiresome to us and to the other characters. It’s when he’s working the streets of the Garment District that he bests comes to life, and then “Prince of Broadway” hums along, a vivid snapshot of a dynamic, unpretty part of the city. Like director Sean Baker’s 2004 feature “Take Out,” which tracked a Chinese delivery man trying to get out from under a considerable debt, this film takes a tightly focused peek into lives and neighborhoods that are rarely represented on screen, portraying immigrant characters scrabbling for a toehold in America.
Lucky’s story is paired with the personal dramas being faced by his boss Levon, an Armenian whose green card marriage became a real one, but whose young wife has started to pull away. Lucky’s situation is precarious — a setback late in the film calls to mind Ramin Bahrani’s “Man Push Cart,” in which everything a character gains can be lost again in the blink of an eye — but Levon, who seems to have an established life, a (semi-criminal) store, a nice apartment, a spouse, is revealed to also be perched on shaky ground.
Shot on the fly in HD, “Prince of Broadway” could serve as a film school example for how to make video work in one’s favor — it uses the immediacy and roughness of its look to its story’s advantage, the documentary feel adding to the sense of authenticity, and finds glimpses of beauty — and compassion — out on the snowy streets of New York when you’d least expect them.
“Prince of Broadway” is now playing in New York.