Matthew Newton’s new film, the indie drama From Nowhere, is at least unnervingly timely. Done right, this story about three Bronx high school students whose futures are in jeopardy because of their undocumented immigration status could have been powerful and necessary. The film itself, unfortunately, falls short.
Each student has a unique background — Moussa (J. Mallory McCree) is from Guinea, Alyssa (Raquel Castro) from Peru and Sophie (Octavia Chavez-Richmond) from the Dominican Republic — but even the lawyer who tries to help them (Denis O’Hare) isn’t interested in listening. He’s not flagrantly villainous (just pragmatic), but his characterization is almost a parody — sweaty and distracted, he takes phone calls in the middle of the kids’ heartfelt stories and exhibits little feeling when explaining how genocide, genital mutilation and dictators are “great” for making a political asylum case to the judge.
On the other end of the spectrum is an extreme white savior type, a too-involved teacher (Julianne Nicholson) who gives an impassioned speech about the American Dream and opportunity. Uh, no offense, teach, but the future isn’t looking so bright right now. So distracting are these white characters that they undermine our relationship to the real stars. The students are portrayed as dependents of their white guardians’ fickle (or well-meaning but ultimately inept) generosity, but we never get far into their history, their will to fight or even the real consequences they’ll face if they don’t win a legal stay. The naturalistic, handheld camerawork aims to create an intimate space for human connection, but the film only skims the surface, taking cues from other touching dramas without ever reaching its own original core.
Directed by Matthew Newton
Opens February 17, Village East Cinema
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 14, 2017