Chop Shop

Posted May 29, 2008 in Film

At 12, Alejandro (Alejandro Polanco) is a man. He works three jobs to keep his 16-year-old-sister Isa (Isamar Gonzales) in comfort and their shack’s mini fridge in Queens stocked with grape soda. His main gig is at a shady auto repair shop where his fellow mechanics treat him like an equal, not a mascot. The only time we’re sure he’s lying is when he tells subway riders that he’s selling candy bars to go back to school; we don’t know what sunk the siblings to this pigeon scratch existence—their parents are so inessential they go unmentioned—but it’s clear Ale’s too practical to dream of college. Anchored by Polanco and Gonzales’ revelatory performances, Ramin Bahrani’s patient, perfectly-scripted vérité drama doesn’t have many plot points, but we’re so absorbed in their world that each upset leaves us frustrated and furious. As the languid Isa’s too lazy to take orders from her boss at the taco truck, Ale vows to save $4,500 and buy her one of her own—especially when he starts worrying that she’s picking up extra cash servicing truckers. His youthful eagerness and middle-aged responsibilities trigger our pride and protectiveness, though we know if forced, he’d shiv us to survive. (Amy Nicholson)



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