Is folk music the way out of an impoverished lifestyle? 

Falling Awake
Directed by Augustin

By night, Jay (Andrew Cisneros) works as an attendant at a Bronx gas station; by day he bangs out lame covers of Blind Melon in a downtown park. Dim-witted dichotomies are the order of the day in Falling Awake (along with moral platitudes and grammar school symbolism), a film that asks, among other pressing questions, "is folk music the way out of an impoverished lifestyle?" If that music in question is of the nauseatingly earnest order purveyed by Cisneros both in the park and at an open-mic night where he gets an inexplicably warm reception from a round of giddy-faced girls, then it seems unlikely, no matter how many times his new non-ghetto girlfriend tells him how talented he is. Allesandra (Jenna Dewan), by contrast, may in fact offer a way out, what with the snug Brooklyn brownstone she's inherited from her grandmother and which she seems willing to let Jay share, but can our boy first shake the petty beefs and violent confrontations of his Bronx block? Stay tuned.

For a film built around an uptown/downtown split, Falling Awake seems to have a poor feel for both worlds, with the former rife with stock ghetto characters and set-ups and dialogue that betrays a suburbanite's tin ear for street talk, and the latter imagined as a place where an acoustic strummer can bring a smile to all passersby. But the split is the meat of the matter and in case you didn't get it, director/co-screenwriter Agustin obliges with a shot of the Manhattan skyline followed by a rack focus back to Jay standing across the river looking on or, later, that same character bluntly declaring downtown to be "so different than where I come from." Apparently so, since his increasingly violent Bronx life, marked by the escalation of a tiff with a rival crew, gives rise to more and more ham-fisted scenes of "high" drama, fitted with an aesthetic hysteria to match. Still, the film's unquestionable low point comes early on when, in a half-hearted bid at political relevance, Agustin stages a dinner table discussion of the Iraq War in which Jay's father employs the old "freedom" rhetoric while his son shrilly informs him that the conflict is all about oil. The observation comes only about seven years too late.

Opens February 5

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