‘H.O.M.E.’: Real New Yorkers struggle to get by in gritty but poetic movie

Jeremy Ray Valdez co-stars in "H.O.M.E.," which screens at the New Jersey International Film Festival in New Brunswick, June 18.

Jeremy Ray Valdez co-stars in “H.O.M.E.,” which screens at the New Jersey International Film Festival in New Brunswick, June 18.

“Do you like the subway?” Danny asks Carly in the film, “H.O.M.E.”

“Do I like the subway?,” Carly responds. “Yeah, I guess I do.”

“What do you like about it?

“It’s like the inside of New York, I guess.”

“H.O.M.E.,” which will be shown June 18 in New Brunswick as part of the Summer 2016 edition of the New Jersey International Film Festival, is an unassuming but skillfully executed film about the inside of New York, in a sense. There are no larger-than-life success stories here, just a handful of characters, pretty much invisible to other New Yorkers, struggling to get by.

Danny (played by Jeremy Ray Valdez) is a young man with Asperger syndrome who runs away from home to live in the city’s subway stations. Carly (Lauren Augarten) is a street musician he befriends. In a parallel story that never connects with this one, Gabriel (Jesús Ochoa) is an immigrant cab driver who yearns to return to his home country of Ecuador, and Sze Wun (Angela Lin) is a young woman he agrees to drive from Queens to Chinatown, even though she has no money, so she can bring medicine to her sick son.

“H.O.M.E.” is a rare example of a film that is short on plot but high on drama. Gabriel, who listens intently to a soccer match on his car radio, has a high-stakes bet on it that will sink him if he loses, but allow him to return to Ecuador if he wins. Sze Wun is extremely worried about her son, but with Gabriel distracted by the game and dealing with traffic and car problem, will she get there in time to give him the medicine she needs?

And what about Danny? Will he be able to survive on his own?

Valdez is very good at evoking the laser-like focus that someone with Asperger syndrome applies to certain topics that interest him: Danny is clearly fascinated by the labyrinthine subway routes that, in an inspired bit of animation, crawl through the city like a network of veins and arteries. And Ochoa helps bring out the complexities of the mercurial Gabriel, a man of many moods beneath his gruff exterior.

The best thing about the film, though, very well may be the cinematography by Boryana Alexandrova, who finds the beauty in the subways’ grimy architecture, and the late-night allure of the dark city streets that Gabriel and Sze Wun find themselves on.

“H.O.M.E” will screen, along with four short films, at 7 p.m. June 18 at Voorhees Hall at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Daniel Maldonado, who co-wrote and co-produced the film in addition to directing it, will be on hand to introduce it and participate in a question-and-answer session.

For information, visit njfilmfest.com.

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