The indie romance “Angelfish” is a strong showcase for its first-time feature filmmaker, Peter Lee — though more for his directing skills than for his writing. Lee coaxes moving performances from a young cast, and he beautifully captures the cultural nuances of the Bronx neighborhoods where his story is set. But he has a tough time finding much new to say with this tale of star-crossed lovers.
Nuyorican hip-hop artist and social influencer Princess Nokia (a.k.a. Destiny Frasqueri) plays Eva, who lives in Marble Hill with a close-knit family that expects her to go to college, get a good job and help support the household. Jimi Stanton plays Brendan, a Kingsbridge kid from a broken home who takes care of his partying mom and criminal brother.
Eva and Brendan click immediately. He urges her to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. she inspires him to stand up to a mother who’s taking advantage of his sense of responsibility. Inevitably, their respective families push back against their children — and reveal some of their own prejudices.
This is a familiar plot, and Lee plays it too safe throughout, hitting predictable boy-meets-girl/boy-loses-girl beats. Even the movie’s 1993 setting fails to add much unexpected or original.
That said, from moment to moment “Angelfish” does feel genuinely alive, thanks to Lee’s charismatic actors. And even if the story’s been told before, Lee does a lot with the backdrops, lovingly filming an eclectic Bronx that often changes from street to street.
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Playing: Starts Nov. 22, Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles; also on VOD