I watched this last night so I could clear more space on my DVR but I didn’t manage to erase it after watching. I want this kid :'(.
But it’s not just the little kid. The whole movie is just so adorable. The way Joey follows his brother and his friends along trying to get them to include him in their games and the way the older brother is occasionally kind but also irritated by having the little brother tag along everywhere – perfect. I am a sucker for movies with kids as protagonists and I can probably watch The 400 Blows any number of times and not get tired of it. But some of my favorite parts of even those movies are the parts where nothing much happens – for example the scenes in The 400 Blows where the kids are watching that puppet show or the time when the physical education teacher takes them out to the streets.
And this film is pretty much about moments like that. All we see is mostly this kid experiencing all those things that seem so plain and maybe even sticky and tacky now but that feel so magical and wonderful to a kid. I’ve never been to Coney Island myself but I still remember the time me and my best friend who were each 10 years old at the time skipped an after-school thing to go to a fun fair that was running in town at the time*. Sticky cotton-candy, soft drinks in weird colors, ponies that look like they’ve never been washed, rides that churn your stomach and make you sick and just loads and loads of people. Just the way Engel and Orkin capture these things made it possible for me to be taken right back to that fun fair. It’s amazing how they manage to have not only captured these sights and sounds but also the way no one in the fair seems to be even aware that they are being filmed. Everyone just seems to be walking around oblivious to this little kid. What this leads to is these little moments that are so perfect (toddlers fighting with one another, a mother spilling her baby’s milk) that combine to form these incredible images of this chaotic place. It’s like seeing candid photographs by a photographer who has this incredible eye for capturing perfect moments. Plus, the film captures perfectly the inherent fear and uncertainty that a child feels being alone in a place like this. The scene in the evening with Joey on the beach is such a great example of this.
The performances by both these kids is just perfect and the film has so many beautiful frames of the kid in close-ups that it comes as no surprise that Engel was an accomplished still photographer as well. The film has long patches of silence where all we see is these amazing images of this kid exploring Coney Island to the sound of a harmonica playing in the background.
Of all the films about childhood I’ve watched, this is probably the one I could relate to the most and even after watching it just once, it’s one of my favorites. .