Thursday, March 11, 2010

Movie with Abe: Harlem Aria

Harlem Aria
Directed by William Jennings
Released March 5, 2010

Everyone has the right to have a dream. Trying to achieve it may be trickier, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth putting in the effort. The story of a kind-hearted, somewhat slow African-American young man from Harlem who yearns to become an opera singer can certainly be seen as an inspiring tale of someone no one else believed in who still sought to prevail over the starkest of odds. Watching as Anton tries hard to realize his lifelong dream is compelling at times, but its presentation diminishes the considerable impact that Anton’s journey could have had.

This is absolutely one of those cases where the concept is far better than the execution. Those involved probably pitched it well and had it received positively, but it doesn’t work terribly well as a film. The inspirational nature of Anton’s transformation into an opera singer as a result of his newfound partnership with a piano player in the park instead comes off as immensely hokey, counteracting any positive possibilities it may have had. There’s nothing particularly inventive or stylized about the filmmaking, and the sappy, predictable story can’t tell itself.

Lead actor Gabriel Casseus gives his performance his all, perfectly mimicking the tics and naivety that the well-meaning Anton exhibits. It’s his portrayal that serves as the key element of the film that makes it worthwhile. The same can’t be said for his two buddies, however. As a homeless hustler who constantly takes advantage of Anton’s handicap, Damon Wayans is obscenely obnoxious and altogether too over-the-top. As the park pianist who more quickly takes to Anton due to his talent and good nature, Christian Camargo, recently seen in powerful roles in both TV’s “Dexter” and the Oscar-winning film “The Hurt Locker,” is sort of useless as a sap and doesn’t add much. The trio is ultimately more comic than compelling, which poses a problem for this allegedly moving film.

What carries “Harlem Aria” in some limited capacity is the essence of the film – Anton’s passion for and love of music. The scenes where Anton throws himself completely into the opera singing he so adores are by far the best in the film. At a point, however, there’s little left to be excited about, but opera lovers will easily be taken in by Casseus’ voice and energy. Those not prone to opera may not look as kindly on this film that presents an uplifting tale but tells it in a less than polished way.


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