“…there are many scenes that are very intense and well acted with beautiful camerawork, but the rest of this movie just feels like a chore…”
Last night I watched a movie that I had been meaning to watch for a long time, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. The movie is essentially the life and times of writer/director Dito Montiel chronicling his rough childhood in Queens, New York in the 80’s, and then telling the story of him as an adult having to return to that place and reconnect with family and old friends. This movie was recommended to me from my mom, who usually only likes movies that rely heavily on action. She said the movie was really good and that I should watch it because I would like it. Unfortunately I wasn’t a fan.
It’s weird talking about someone’s life as a ‘story’ either in a movie or a book, especially when the ‘star’ of the ‘story’ was the one who lead it’s production. So when I criticize the movie’s story, I am well aware that someone lived through this but that doesn’t make it exempt from my thoughts because honestly, I found it quite dull. Now the whole movie isn’t dull, there are many scenes that are very intense and well acted with beautiful camerawork, but the rest of this movie just feels like a chore to get to those scenes. I’m not going to go into detail about the scenes that I really liked with fear of potentially spoiling the movie, but rest assured there were at least 5 scenes that I absolutely loved. As I said, the rest was mediocre at best. First and foremost, I’m going to talk about the characters. Whenever the movie is in “flashback” mode you spend your time following Dito around with his group of friends. Unfortunately, every single one of these people is fucking insufferable. They swear like sailors, they are crass, and they even antagonize people just for being on the same sidewalk as them. I suppose this is a look into how people behaved in that part of the city, but when I am forced to watch a movie and I don’t care about the characters because they are all assholes, then I tend not to care about the movie. That being said Channing Tatum, who played Dito’s friend Antonio, did an absolutely incredible job with portraying the character. He stole the show in every scene he was in and seemed to portray the very intricate character of Antonio effortlessly. Apart from him, I felt that all of the actors were effortlessly mediocre save for a few key scenes in the movie.
On top of not relating to the characters, the editing (mainly in the beginning of the movie) was completely all over the place. It was almost like there were 5 different editors and they only got to work on 10 minute chunks of the movie. There were many times where I just couldn’t follow what they fuck was going on on screen, which leads me into my next point. This movie seemed to try some very “artsy” shit, and in turn ate said shit. There were many weird points in the movie where a scene would restart halfway through, sometimes multiple times, and it was very confusing. Something else that just came out of fucking nowhere was halfway through the movie, all of the key characters just started addressing the camera giving mini monologues, saying things like “I like to fuck” and “I’m a piece of shit”. This was then never mentioned, or done, again and it felt sorely out of place even if we did get a kind of touching moment out of it. Another thing that I felt was bizarre was the exchange between Dito and Mike on the subway. Dialogue was being spoken twice, almost like the actors were doing voiceovers of lines seconds before their counterparts on screen could say them. And there were a couple of instances of what I can only assume was the script flashing on screen, giving us in writing what the characters were saying. I have no idea what was trying to be accomplished here, my best guess is it was old Dito reading his book to a crowd(? this was never established), but even then it was strange that it would occur at such a random moment and then never again. And unfortunately, right there with the editing, the soundtrack seemed confused. It kept playing the same, upbeat song even if what we were seeing onscreen was horrific or sad. To the films credit, there was one scene where the editing was incredible. Again, I’m not going to spoil it, but the scene included no sounds and repeatedly cut to black (you’ll know it when you see it). This was a fantastic way to build tension and make you feel for the characters, and it is one of the many scenes I mentioned before that were great in this movie.
The story presented in the movie was also a little bit lacking. It seemed that the instead of focusing on the portions of his childhood that involved “plot development”, Dito Montiel included every conversation he had with his friends in the film’s timeframe, even if they did nothing to advance the story or add to our understanding of the characters (and they very rarely did). And though toward the end we kept getting great scenes more frequently, the ending just kind of happened. There was no real conclusion and it felt like I had wasted my time by watching a bunch of small stories unfold, instead of one big one. Again, it could be argued that the story didn’t end because to my knowledge the writer is still alive. That is not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is the many issues that were brought up and then never resolved. It honestly felt like there could have been 20 more minutes of the movie left. I’m personally glad there wasn’t because the movie felt too long to begin with, but I’m just saying it was unfulfilling.
I give A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints a D