Greetings again from the darkness. Awkwardness abounds in the opening scene as Walter, his wife, and their teenage daughter reunite at JFK airport. The Angolan family has been separated for 17 years, and reality hits as the threesome grasp that they don’t even really know each other. The reunion gets more uncomfortable as they try to settle into Walter’s cramped one bedroom apartment. He’s been living and working in New York City as a taxi driver while the paperwork was processed to allow his family to join him.
This is the first feature film from writer-director Ekwa Msangi, and she expands her 2016 short film FAREWELL MEU AMOR. Ntare Gum Mbaho Mwine stars as Walter, the taxi driver and husband/father with a secret. His wife Esther is played by Zainab Jah, and it’s her religious zealousness that complicates things for the reunited family. Their daughter Sylvia is played by newcomer Jayme Lawson, a teenager whose simmering energy and passion for dancing is masked by her quiet demeanor. In fact, it’s dancing that links the three characters and ultimately breaks down barriers.
Ms. Msangi cleverly utilizes individual chapters for the three main characters within the larger story. We quickly get a feel for the difficulties and challenges each is facing during this transition. Walter is struggling with the separation from Linda (Nana Mensah), a nurse he had grown quite fond of. Esther is reacts to her husband’s independence by praying louder and harder and sending money to her church. Sylvia’s story is perhaps the most interesting. As an immigrant, she’s an outcast at school, and only the kindness of classmate DJ (Marcus Scribner) allows her to create her space with a terrific dance off. There is also an interesting interaction between Esther and a neighbor (Joie Lee), one of the few who knows the full story and tries to help.
Cultural upheaval is on display, and there are quite a few touching scenes. Walter and Esther have dinner out at a nice restaurant, and it’s a scene filled with conflicting feelings and emotions … handled extremely well by the actors. There is a gentleness and sincerity to the film, and we find ourselves hoping things will work out well for all three. Perhaps it’s a stretch to think dancing might be the key to a smoother transition, but the way it plays out is quite pleasant to watch. It’s a terrific first feature from Ekwa Msangi.
In Theaters and On Demand December 11