A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints ***1/2
"A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" is a powerful film, filled with some of the best preformances that you'll probably never see. It captures the type of city life that I never got to experience-groups of kids, all in their little cliques, walking down the streets, acting like they are big shots, and acting as if they have all the answers. Never being a part of something like that, I cannot really take any life experience into the theatre with me, but I can still observe it, and get a feel for what it is like. This film starts off with a group like that-four friends who are always around one another, getting in trouble, doing things in the subway that makes the train conductor roll his eyes at them, and wonder what they're parents are like. It's the 1980's, in Astoria, New York, and it's also one of the hottest summers on record.
From the very beginning, we see an old woman, who we later know is Flori. She is contacting her son, Dito, and informs him on his answering machine that his father is sick. Who are these people, and why will this bit of information be crucial? Well, the answer to that lies in flashbacks. Dito is an older man now, and he wrote a book about his experiences in Queens, especially in that fateful summer. He was the big hot shot on the block, hanging out with his friends, Antonio and Nerf. Antonio isn't the happiest guy, as his father is notorious for beating him up from time to time, giving him a tough and rigid personality. When he wasn't with his friends, he was with his father, Monty, who loved him more than anyone else, and was always around for advice. However, he refuses to get an air conditioner, no matter the temperature. When somebody makes a comment about the heat, he simply says "It's hot because its the summer." Dito meets the new exhange student from Ireland, Mike O'Shea, and the two of them begin to work for Frank, a gay dog walker. In addition, he starts a relationship with Laurie. Dito is growing up, but tradgey is just around the corner, making him consider Mike's offer to go to California, and start some kind of life there. Dito doesn't know if he could leave his family, friends, and life behind him, and start over across the country. Maybe his home is exactly where he is, no matter what is happening to him.
The film divides itself into two parts. We have the flashback scenes, as well as the scenes of Dito, now grown up and turned into Robert Downy Jr, heading back home after leaving many years ago. These intercuts tell us what happens to Dito when he was young-he ran away from home. The question is, why? What happened to Dito that made him abandon the only things that he knew and loved? This is the basis of our story. It's based on the real life experiences of Dito Montiel, who does a perfect job of conveying his past onto the screen. The cast gives powerhouse preformances, especially by the younger crowd. While Robert Downy Jr. and Rosario Dawson may be big names, they don't really create the characters they are playing. Instead, they seem to follow up what has already been laid out by Shia LaBeouf and Melonie Diaz. Some of the scenes are stunningly emotional, and I even got myself caught up and engrossed in what was happening on the screen. It is quite an experience to watch, and one that is well worth it.
It's a film about comparison, and about recognition. We see what happens to Dito, and the neighborhood that he grew up in when he was a teenager, and now that he is back, almost twenty years later, things are very different. Not everything is solved in the end, but it's not about the journey, its about the events leading up to it. There is more to come in the lives of these characters, but we just won't be able to see them yet. That is "A Guide to Finding Your Saints," which I'm sure will never be made, and this is all we have. Find this little gem somewhere, and soon before it vanishes without a trace.