I've had this movie on my Netflix queue for a long time, and I never got around to watching it. I'm so glad I finally did - I probably never would have been pushed into it if it wasn't for this project. Not because it sounded like a bad movie - it sounded good enough to put in my queue - but because I just make really bad film choices when left to my own devices.
The film follows Alejandro and his sister Isamar as they struggle to make a living in New York. Ale is young, barely a teenager, and an orphan. He doesn't go to school, and instead works at a chop shop in Queens, doing a variety of tasks. To supplement his meager income, he sells candy on the subway, steals hub caps, and even purses. He and Isamar dream of owning their own food truck, and they try to save money to purchase a truck. But things are hard, and unfortunately, don't always go as planned.
I wasn't surprised to learn that most of the actors in the film were...not actors. It felt so real, and often like a documentary. I love that the director wasn't afraid to cast actual kids, and let people who really worked in that area play themselves. It just made the story feel so real. It was clear it was a fiction piece and not a documentary, but the non-actors really helped to bring it to life and make it completely convincing. It didn't feel corny like when you see a clearly trained actor trying to seem like he's "from the streets", it was real, and it was really awesome to watch.
Ebert had the privilege of joining the director for a shot by shot analysis of the film, and he has a lot of cool insights into how the movie was made. There were not a lot of rehearsals, and even some scenes where the surrounding people had no idea they were in a film. I don't want to just paraphrase it, but I do want to say that it's really worth reading his essay. I learned a lot from it, and it deepened my appreciation for the film. I didn't know much about this director before seeing the movie, but I really enjoy him after reading about how he works. Good stuff.
The plot of the film is really engrossing and amazing. I cared so much for these kids, and I couldn't focus on anything else but their story. I couldn't even eat dinner and watch the film at the same time - I needed to be able to give it my full attention. I knew that things wouldn't work out for Ale and Isamar, but I kept hoping. It wasn't really sad, but it was tough and realistic. It's not easy to watch Ale learn hard lessons as he is confronted with how harsh life can be. I really like films that focus on more difficult subjects, and I just felt like this was such an important and compelling story. It was just told so beautifully.
The movie is streaming on Netflix, and it's really worth watching. It's really a simple, easy watch, but it tells such a great story and is just made so wonderfully. I really liked reading Ebert's essay about how the film was made, because I loved how the director worked. I don't know, the whole movie just worked so well for me. It felt like a true story, a combination of the non-actors and the camera work, and honestly, it probably is a true story for someone. Seriously, just a great movie. Check it out!
Have any thoughts on Chop Shop? Share them in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Chop Shop
Buy it on Amazon