Last week Alex and I spoke about the importance of a movie’s title and how that alone can gauge your interest in a film. A week ago I couldn’t imagine that I would’ve enjoyed a movie titled “Babygirl,” yet I admit it was one of the movies I liked the most at Tribeca 2012.
Lena (Yainis Ynoa) is on the verge of sixteen and lives with her mother Lucy (Rosa Arrendono) and baby half-brother in the Bronx. Lena has watched her mother fall in and out of relationships with various men, and finds it difficult to accept. “You’re mom’s a slut, deal with it,” Lena’s best friend says, to which Lena replies, “No, she’s not, she’s just lonely.” But soon Lucy meets Victor (Flaco Navaja), a younger man who is about midway between Lucy and Lena’s ages. Lena dislikes Victor and feels uncomfortable around him because his eyes always seem to wander in her direction. How Lena deals with this situation and the flirtations of a boy her age named Xavier (Joshua Rivera) reveal how a girl seemingly alone in her life learns to deal with her negative feelings toward men.
The movie is wonderfully acted, and even the teenage actors manage to impress. In particular, Ynoa is wonderful in her first film — she scowls so effectively in the early scenes that when she begins to open up and laugh it’s a beautiful sight. I was surprised to learn that the film was written and directed by Irish-born filmmaker Macdara Vallely since it seemed so authentic to the Hispanic Bronx community. It’s a remarkable achievement that Vallely can capture that culture despite being removed from it.
Men get a bad rap in the film because creeps like Victor deserve it, which is okay because the teenager, Xavier, is shown to be his moral superior. In fact, it’s refreshing to see a movie in which the teenage characters show more maturity than the adults. After all, if you only watch movies aimed at teenagers one would end up assuming that all teens are sex-crazed degenerates. Lena is one of many teenagers her age who aren’t. She coldly and abruptly turns down Xavier when he initially approaches her in an attempt to strike up a conversation. Who can blame her? Her father is out of the picture and George, the father of her half-brother, gets arrested within the first ten minutes of the movie.
Lucy and Lena’s mother/daughter relationship is very realistic, as though Lucy calls Lena her “best friend” she is still her mother and in a lot of ways less mature than her daughter. Lena is sixteen (and actually looks sixteen, another refreshing aspect of his movie), but is wise beyond her years from dealing with the fallout of her mother’s relationships. There are thousands of young women who, like Lena, are distrustful of men because they never had a positive male influence on their lives. Babygirl shows how that lack of influence can be damaging.
The movie hints at a close relationship between Lena and a woman named Carmen (Sandra Elizabeth Rodriguez). Carmen seems like a wonderful character, though her exact relationship with Lena isn’t made clear, nor is the reason why Lena holds her in such high esteem. For whatever reason the movie doesn’t explore that bond, but it appears that Carmen is a far better role model for Lena than her mother.
Babygirl tells a fascinating story in its brief 77 minutes. There is a lot other filmmakers can learn about streamlined storytelling from Babygirl. It tells a compelling story with relatable characters, and sometimes that’s all you’re looking for in a movie.
Rating: A great coming-of-age movie that breezes by and leaves you smiling (8.5/10).
Babygirl is one of the few films streaming on Tribecafilm.com, so check it out here.