We first meet bigoted family man Enrique (Esai Morales) in prison where he’ss willing to face a punishment of 90 days in the hole just to call someone out for being a “faggot”. After spending three years behind bars, Enrique returns to his home in the Bronx to find that his wife Angela (Scrubs‘ Judy Reyes in an effective dramatic turn) is having an emotional affair and his son Michael (transgender actress Harmony Santana) is now a transsexual slam poet named Vanessa. These developments don’t sit will with Enrique who has problems adjusting to the outside and quickly reverts to a life of crime while simultaneously doing his best to hetero-ize his son. Emotions build, lessons are learned, and acceptance is achieved though the film’s ironic twist of a finale says very little about the themes at hand.
First-time feature writer/director Rashaad Ernesto Green crafts realistic characters and situations with an emotional earnestness that feels legit, which is necessary in a film that often strays towards Precious-level melodrama. The grays and grime of the Bronx are portrayed with the street-level sense of early Spike Lee while Michael’s transformations are handled in an intimate, fetishistic manner. There are technical issues common amongst both low budget filmmaking and first-time feature directors, but any technical shortcomings are easily excused in a film as sincere as this one.
Gun Hill Road opens today at the Ritz at the Bourse.