There’s a raw authenticity to Bronx-shot street drama “Savage Roses” that holds attention despite production values that are aren’t so much raw as plain shoddy. Adapted from scenarist Joshua Tucker’s stage play, tale revolves around a Latina gang whose toughest member becomes involved — protectively, then romantically — with an ultra-femme young single mother. Storytelling is pretty basic, tech presentation primitive. But nonexploitative approach and some vivid perfs should get vid feature a shot at specialized home-format sales after making gay fest rounds.
Toro (Misha Gonzales) hangs with a crew of homegirls who aren’t above armed robbery, boosting items from stores, tricking would-be drug buyers out of cash or beating them senseless — though Toro herself seems disinterested in those nastier activities. She tolerates no disrespect, however, especially from men, revealing, perhaps too patly, childhood sexual abuse as an explanation.She lends a sympathetic ear one day when voluptuous new ‘hood resident Michelle (Tania Galarza) is being rudely dressed down by loutish Pedro (Nelson), the irresponsible father of her infant daughter. An unlikely, increasingly flirtatious friendship develops, and while it doesn’t become physical for a while, hesitancy on hetero-identifying Michelle’s side and surprising vulnerability on Toro’s are slowly overcome.
Rather predictable story arc necessitates eventual tragedy, however, amply portended by violent tensions set a-brewing between leads and Pedro, as well as Toro’s temperamental homies.
There’s a live-wire quality to scenes where the raucous, trash-talking gang members hang out, and brief explosions of violence are convincing. Gonzales is terrific, naturally limning a potentially overdrawn character on the extreme edge of anger management, street smarts and butch stereotyping. She can be funny one moment, dangerous the next. And when she kicks the bejesus out of swaggering Pedro, there’s no doubt she’s got the cojones to do it.
On the downside, long, earnest dialogue between Toro and the rather too dewy Michelle lean toward the pedestrian, apart from their sweetly abashed chat after a first sexual experience.
Director James Tucker claims numerous prior direct-to-vid features, but wobbly hand-held camerawork and oft-problematic sound recording wouldn’t flatter a classroom project. Staging is workmanlike at best, with locations mostly back alleys, side-street stoops and secluded parks that don’t take great advantage of the Bronx. It’s up to generally alert perfs, slangy, sometimes improv-feeling dialogue and thumping local rap tracks to summon up atmosphere. Thumping local rap tracks also help.