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Don’t Let Me Drown

Grainy, well-acted film gains immeasurably from vivid use of New York locations.

With: E.J. Bonilla, Gleendilys Inoa, Damian Alcazar, Yareli Arizmendi, Gina Torres, Ricardo Antonio Chavira, Dennis Kellum, Raul Castillo, Adrian Martinez.

Set in working-class Brooklyn just after 9/11, co-writer/director Cruz Angeles’ teen love story deals tangentially with survivor’s guilt and Ground Zero asbestos poisoning, but not so much as to detract from the vibrant appeal of its Romeo and Juliet, named Lalo and Stefanie. Shot on grainy celluloid, well-acted “Don’t Let Me Drown” gains immeasurably from vivid use of New York locations, including Coney Island amusement park, where guarded Stefanie — dealing with an angry dad and the loss of her sister to the terrorist attacks — begins to warm to young Lalo. In a livelier economy, distribution would be guaranteed.

Though Stefanie (Gleendilys Inoa) plays hard to get, it’s love at first sight for Lalo (E.J. Bonilla), who spies his crush across a crowded park even while some other kids’ fists are flying between them. As love blooms, the script delivers a mostly agreeable mix of drama and comedy, the violent disapproval of Stefanie’s protective dad balanced by outrageously vulgar birds-and-bees lessons from Lalo’s uncle. Though not as winning as “Raising Victor Vargas,” which it resembles, the pic draws its romance tenderly and believably, and the tech credits are likewise engaging.

Don't Let Me Drown

Production: A Parts & Labor and Rollin' Deep production, in association with Sterling Prods. and Strange Loop. (International sales: Loeb and Loeb, Los Angeles.) Produced by Ben Howe, Maria Topete, Lars Knudsen, Jay Van Hoy. Executive producers, Virgil Price, Ian McGloin, Jamie Mai, Charlie Ledley, James Lawler. Directed by Cruz Angeles. Screenplay, Maria Topete, Angeles.

Crew: Camera (color), Chad Davidson; editor, Andrew Hafitz; music, Daniel Belardinelli; music supervisor, Lynn Fainchtein; production designer, Inbal Weinberg; set decorator, Hannah Newman; costume designer, Gracie Cox. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 18, 2009. Running time: 102 MIN.

With: With: E.J. Bonilla, Gleendilys Inoa, Damian Alcazar, Yareli Arizmendi, Gina Torres, Ricardo Antonio Chavira, Dennis Kellum, Raul Castillo, Adrian Martinez.

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