Get Cultured — January 19, 2015 at 11:25 am

“Calloused Hands” or the Andre Royo show?

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Calloused Hands is a coming of age tale about a mixed race boy named Josh and his dysfunctional family, who see themselves hitting rock bottom and having to agree to a bar mitzvah for his grandfather to save them. As Josh learns about his heritage and history, he is distracted by his scheming and often violent stepfather, who thinks he is a baseball prodigy and the answer to their money problems. Add to that a mother unable to protect him because of her obsession with the stepfather, and a racist grandfather that shun her because of her choice of men, and you can see Josh has his work cut out for him.

Coming of age stories come every year by the hundreds. They are stories most people can relate to and get involved in. To stand out, you have to constantly innovate the genre or tug at the hearts of your audience so you get the reactions you want. “Calloused Hands” tries to do both, and sadly only succeeds, if mildly, on one. The story is based on Josh, but the film’s main focus is Byrd who seems more like the antagonist. But at the same time he is a caring and loving father figure… what? The story doesn’t seem to know what to do with him, since it goes out of its way to try and make us relate. Portrayed by the incomparable Andre Royo, the film takes too much of its time following Byrd’s antics and too little showing us Josh’s growth. In the very first scene, we see them together, calculating how much money a family has from inside their car. After that, the first whole act is focused on Byrd, how he tries to make it right for everyone, and looking for sympathy for a character that doesn’t deserve much. Josh is almost like a background character in the first half hour, and his mother who seems too deep in to even matter. Things picked up once she makes the decision to ask her father for money, and the story itself seems to start moving, but by that point my interest was waning.

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The performances apart from Royo’s are below average at best. Luca Oriel does such a one-note job as Josh that it makes me wonder if the focus shifted to Royo because of that. He never demands attention, and always seems to be just going with the flow. By the time the character stands up to Byrd, we barely care. Daisy Haggard and Sean McConaghy are both acceptable as the mother and the new father figure that creates the rift, but it takes too long for them to be in the spotlight.

This is director’s Jesse Quiñones first feature length film, and while it is a flawed film, it does shows potential. He has an eye for what he thinks looks right, but most of the time that comes out as trying too hard to get a cool shot. For example, there’s a scene in which Debby (Josh’s mother) is sitting down in a white couch. The colors pop at you, and usually I love this kind of shot when they are done right. Here they distract you because you can see the intention clearly. And I guess that’s the problem with the film as a whole, it is so obvious. There’s an audience for this genre, one that is not tired of the same old story being told the same old way.

Calloused Hands is running the festival circuit at the moment. If it comes to your town, I recommend you watch it as it gives us a glimpse of how talented Mr. Quinñones is, and could be.  The movie is average at best, but he seems to be going to a place where it is anything but average.

Twisted Talk: Have you watched Calloused Hands? What were your reactions? Discuss below!

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