On the Indie film circuit, Ramin Bahrani has emerged as a rising star among directors. His films Man Push Cart, Chop Shop, and Goodbye Solo have all gotten good reviews from a number of critics. I have yet to see Cart or Solo, but Shop certainly lives up to its hype.
Bahrani’s screenplay, co written with Bahareh Azimi, builds around the daily doings of Alejandro (Alejandro Polanco)- a twelve year old Puerto Rican boy who lives in New York City’s Queens Borough. Orphaned and removed from any sort of social service, Alejandro doesn’t attend school, but instead hustles on Queen’s streets for money to survive. Surprisingly, this desolate existence doesn’t get him down; Alejandro shows an incredible amount of resource and optimism as he sells candy bars on the subway near the film’s beginning. Eventually, these same qualities help him land a job at a neighborhood car body shop (hence, the film’s title) owned by Rob (Rob Sowulski), who also lets Alejandro and his older sister Isamar (Isamar Gonzalez) sleep in a small apartment above the garage. Together, the brother and sister work, Alejandro at the shop and Isamar in a food vending truck, to cover their daily expenses and save enough money to fulfill their dream of buying their own food truck.
With his day-in-the-neighborhood format Bahrani shows his familiarity with the work of Spike Lee, and like any good borrower he pays tribute to Brooklyn’s best filmmaker with a number of allusions to Lee’s classic, Do the Right Thing. The most notable of these comes in Shop’s dialogue when Alejandro accuses Isamar of having bad breath, just as Jade does to her brother Mookie early in Thing.
Despite Lee’s obvious influence, Barhrani is still able to construct an aesthetic uniquely his own. Instead of creating an environment that often seems to depart from reality, as Lee does in Thing with his loud dialogue, flamboyant costumes, and discolored cinematography, Barhani builds a world that strongly adheres to the one we already live in. The ability Bahrani shows in Shop to blend his own sense of originality with conventions already established by other important directors makes this film well worth seeing.