The Girl in the Watermelon

As inviting as an open fire hydrant in August, Sergio M. Castilla's "The Girl in the Watermelon" sets a young girl's search for an unknown father against an idealized urban backdrop. Casting New York City as a colorful, multicultural playground, "Watermelon" becomes overripe at points but the mush is easily overlooked as pic's good nature takes hold.

With:
Diane Mayerofsky ... Michele Pawk Eddie Alvarez ... Lazaro Perez Robert Willbarth ... Steven Stahl Matt Carrere ... James Spencer Thierree Samantha Mayerofsky ... Meredith Scott Lynn Julius ... Michael Allinson Phil McGovern ... Steven Mark Friedman Paul Rosen ... Jon Avner Lucy ... Jamie Lynn Reif Coco ... Jose Herrera

As inviting as an open fire hydrant in August, Sergio M. Castilla’s “The Girl in the Watermelon” sets a young girl’s search for an unknown father against an idealized urban backdrop. Casting New York City as a colorful, multicultural playground, “Watermelon” becomes overripe at points but the mush is easily overlooked as pic’s good nature takes hold.

Pic’s position as the opener for the 1994 New Directors/New Films series could prove a mixed blessing: Spotlight might be too harsh for this small, albeit charming, entry. Still, warm audience and critical response should help “Watermelon” find a distrib and a place on the specialized circuit.

Chief among Castilla’s accomplishments is discovery of Meredith Scott Lynn, who plays 17-year-old Samantha Mayerofsky. Lynn keeps the smart, precocious Sam from sitcom-brat status, and contributes mightily to the film’s considerable warmth.

Sam is a Brooklyn girl on a mission: to find the father she never knew. Getting no answers from her exasperated mother (well-played by Michele Pawk), the teenager steals a peek at mom’s 1976 datebook. She discovers two paternal candidates: one a Latino, trumpet-playing ladies man (Lazaro Perez) and the other a WASPy, gay and very wealthy SoHo art dealer (Steven Stahl).

Writer-director exhibits smart dialog, a knack for detail, and compassion to his characters — and luckily so: The gay and Latino characters veer dangerously close to offensive stereotype, collision avoided by the film’s big heart.

Castilla isn’t quite so fortunate in other areas. Whimsy turns cutesy in a pair of dream sequences — title refers to Sam’s dream in which she sees herself as an embryo inside a watermelon — and pic’s repeated use of underwater metaphors is obvious and cloying.

Lovingly shot by Irek Hartowicz, pic looks like a lot more than its $ 1 million budget. Other tech credits are fine, particularly Ana Araiz’s well-chosen musical backdrops.

Cast is terrific. Michael Allinson limns the best manservant since John Gielgud donned white gloves for “Arthur.”

The Girl in the Watermelon

(Comedy -- Color)

Production: A Mommy & Daddy production. Produced by Sergio Moskowicz. Executive producer, Andrew Louca. Directed, written by Sergio M. Castilla.

Crew: Camera (color), Irek Hartowicz; editor, Elizabeth Schwartz; music, Ana Araiz; art direction, Boris Curatolo; costume design, Susan Cannon; sound, Annette Dento. Reviewed at Titus I Theater, Museum of Modern Art, N.Y., March 19, 1994. (In New Directors/New Films.) Running time: 92 min.

With: Diane Mayerofsky ... Michele Pawk Eddie Alvarez ... Lazaro Perez Robert Willbarth ... Steven Stahl Matt Carrere ... James Spencer Thierree Samantha Mayerofsky ... Meredith Scott Lynn Julius ... Michael Allinson Phil McGovern ... Steven Mark Friedman Paul Rosen ... Jon Avner Lucy ... Jamie Lynn Reif Coco ... Jose Herrera

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