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STORY AVE (2023)

Release Date: 09/29/23 [Cinemas]
Genre: Drama. 

Studio: Kino Lorber.

"Follows a teenage graffiti artist who ran away from home and holds up an unwary MTA worker in a robbery gone right that would change their lives forever." 


Deep within New York’s most boisterous borough, The Bronx, there’s an obscure street dubbed Story Avenue. Despite its name, very little ever happens there. It’s just another neighborhood. In Aristotle Torres’ new film of the same name, however, that street is the backdrop to one of the most innovative, relatable, and unforgettable coming-of-age tales to date.


Story Ave follows a teenager by the name of Kadir, an aspiring artist who is not so sure of where he belongs in the world. When we first meet him, he’s particularly lost in grief because of the recent death of his little brother. Feeling guilty for what we come to learn was an accidental death, he runs away from home and attempts to join a local graffiti gang led by a shady artist named Skemes. While being a part of Skemes’s crew has its perks, it also comes at a cost. Kadir has to prove himself. In Skemes’ eyes the only way that can happen is if he robs someone at gunpoint. Giving Kadir his own gun, he tells him not to return unless he’s succeeded. And Kadir does find success. One night, he tails a man getting off a train at the Story Ave subway station, and there, fittingly, the story begins. Although his intent is to rob the man of all his cash, the encounter gives him something so much more valuable. 


Asante Blackk (When They See Us) is incredible as Kadir. A perfect embodiment of modern existential angst, he is also an essential reminder that it’s okay not to have everything figured out. For much of the film he’s pulled in so many different directions by so many different people that he begins to think it’s better to stay still than to move forward. For example, his mother wants him to be the man of the house, while Skemes wants him to follow in his footsteps as a ruthless rebel. But when he becomes tired of letting other people make choices for him, only then is he able to forge his own path. 


One admirable thing the film does is show how different Kadir acts in public and when he’s alone. For example, later on in the film there’s a scene when Kadir is at an art gallery supporting a young woman he has a crush on.. When she introduces her boyfriend, however, Kadir feels the need to feign the same masculinity Skemes encourages. It’s an interesting and honest choice that proves just how real peer pressure still is. It also highlights how reluctant we are to be our true selves when we’re younger because we think authenticity comes off as weakness.


Melvin Gregg (American Vandal, The Blackening) turns in a terrific, yet terrifying performance as Skemes too. The way he walks a fine line between respectable and radical is reminiscent of Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger in Black Panther. But of all the film’s performances it’s Luis Guzman who delivers the best. Career-best to be precise. 


Guzman plays the man who Kadir tries to rob. Although he’s also named Luis, he’s nothing like the comedic actor. The role is a total departure from anything he’s done before because Guzman is serious and leans more into his age. When Kadir tries to rob him, Luis immediately offers up his wallet. But then he tells him that he’s probably better off taking his coat because it’s worth more. Metaphorically speaking, he gives a total stranger - and the enemy at that point - the shirt off his back. And it doesn’t stop there. He offers to buy Kadir a meal too. That’s just the beginning of his unwavering kindness. He sees something in Kadir not that even Kadir sees in himself. And for the rest of the film, he goes out of his way to try and teach Kadir that although he’s made some mistakes he has his whole future ahead of him.


The film is a remarkable feature length debut from Torres. Although he is credited as the director and co-writer of Story Ave, the credits state that the movie is actually “A Story by The Bronx.” It’s a perfect way to describe the film’s unique perspective. Just as you shouldn’t be judged by the place you’re from, the place where this saga is set refuses to pass judgment itself. Throughout the story, Torres encourages us to view all of the rich characters and conflicts as impartial flies on the wall. Between the Story Ave train stop being a fictitious one (it doesn’t exist in real life) and other surrealist elements sprinkled throughout, the film also feels like a fable. It makes you wonder if Kadir’s situation is meant to be more of a cautionary tale.


The only real problem with Story Ave is that it ends abruptly. The last 10-15 minutes feel so rushed that it feels like Kadir doesn’t have time to digest certain developments. Neither do we. Still, between its solid performances and fresh execution it’s a ride worth taking. One that’ll make you want to stay on even at the final stop.

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