A colorful, if gritty portrait of halcyon life in Willet's Point in Queens, NY is told with unsentimental honesty.
The effective, truthful hand-held lensed Chop Shop is located very close to Shea Stadium as this 75 acre "Iron Triangle" sprawls from the barely legal auto body business.
The sharp Iranian-American director Ramin Bahrani takes us into unfamiliar territory as he lets us into the hustling and bustling life of 12-year-old Alejandro (Alejandro Polanco). Foreign to child welfare programs, the prepubescent is a charismatic self-starter, earning money on the streets by selling DVDs and candy.
The proprietor of these shops (Rob Sowulski) is impressed by Alejandro who reminds him of himself, letting him rest in a small makeshift upstairs space. The kid is just fine in his daily chores, not restricted by parents, social services, or labor laws. The result gets him many friends as this boy vies for his cut of the "American Dream".
The story begins to kick in awhile after Bahrani and the charming Polanco have got us in his routine, which includes being a utility worker in a garage.
Alejandro's opposite arrives in the form of his unfocused, indolent older (16-year-old) sister Isamar (Isamar Gonzales). She'll be welcomed into his tight living quarters and given a spot on a lunch cart to earn a living. Isamar is caught up more with having fun and gossiping with friends than saving money with a purpose like her younger brother.
The conflict builds against Alejandro, in part because of what he learns about Isamar. Throughout, Bahrani, as he did in the equally observant and unobtrusive Man Push Cart, keeps it all grounded in reality even as plans are altered and one's purpose reconsidered in light of what organically has transpired.
Using untrained actors is appropriate for such an endeavor that doesn't call on any mainstream devices and has its own low-key flair. The emphasis is on Alejandro and those of or around his age where abstaining often means surviving. Polanco is a surprising force in a rather austere, unforgiving enviroment, and Gonzales has a sassy demeanor that fits in with the struggles of family ties. Chop Shop finds much emotion and humanity from those appear to have scaled this sort of failure and success in their lives.