Sometimes I watch a film and wind up thinking about two things: length and medium. In terms of length, I wonder if a feature film should be a short instead (and vice versa). In terms of medium, I wonder if the film’s content works as a film or if would be better served as a written work, a miniseries, a comic book, or a play.
These concerns weighed heavy on me about midway through Stand Clear of the Closing Doors. It’s not because it’s a bad movie by any means, but despite the excellent performances and the sense that its heart was in the right place, the length and medium for this story were like suit jackets that didn’t fit right.
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Stand Clear of the Closing Doors
Director: Sam Fleischner
Release Date: TBD
Ricky (Jesus Sanchez-Velez) is the 13-year-old autistic son of undocumented workers living in the Rockaways. He spends his days mumbling intelligibly in his own world and drawing dragons, which he puts up on the walls of his room that he shares with his sister Carla (Azul Zorrilla). When Carla doesn’t get him after school one afternoon, Ricky runs off into the subway, where he stays for several days just riding back and forth on the A, C, and E line. On the subway, Ricky people watches; back home, his mom (Andrea Suarez Paz) and sister worry; meanwhile, Hurricane Sandy looms.
There are some legitimately great performances in Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, particularly Paz, who’s so naturalistic and multi-layered it’s astonishing. Through her side of the story there’s a larger conversation about class in New York and the outsider status of illegal aliens, as well as the difficulties of being a low-income parent raising a child with special needs. Both Zorrilla and Sanchez-Velez are good too, and these three core performances establish a realistic family dynamic, one that feels like it’s existed before the film started.
The issue for me while watching all of this unfold has everything to do with length and medium. There’s a sort of thinness to the material in Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, and while some of the texture and detail is interesting, it never seemed to cohere into a feature film. There’s a really powerful short film in this, I think, or even a really fascinating novel given how the language could be played with, but it almost felt like the film was killing time on the subway. These moments of observation are dazzling for Ricky, whose mind enjoys the stimulation, but for me they didn’t seem to buzz or hum. It’s an odd thing: the performances had life for me, while those snippets of real-life people on the subway seemed lifeless.