I Like It Like That
1994, R, 105 min. Directed by Darnell Martin. Starring Lauren Velez, Jon Seda, Rita Moreno, Griffin Dunne, Tomas Melly.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 21, 1994
A vibrant, passionate, romantic, funny, funky, and thoroughly realistic slice of black and Latino Bronx life that flies off the screen in the first few moments and doesn't let up until the very tail end of the closing credits. The comparison has probably already been made, but Martin's debut film leaves you feeling the same way you did after seeing She's Gotta Have It, Spike Lee's 1984 film debut. And it's not just that the two filmmakers are black and from New York City (and ignoring the differences, like Lee being male and shooting his first film independently and Martin being female and hired by a major studio) it's that they both know the concrete rhythm of downtown streets like second nature. I Like It Like That is so crammed full of subtly nuanced bits of NYC characters and situations that you practically feel like cruising over to CBGB's afterward for a burger and all-ages show. Velez is Lisette Linares, a young black Latina who lives with her bicycle-messenger husband Chino (Seda) and their three children Li'l C (Melly), Minnie (Desiree Casado), and Pee Wee (Isaiah Garcia) in a perpetually cramped walkup on Findlay and 167th in the Bronx. When Chino gets busted for looting during a blackout, Lisette, on the advice of her transvestite brother Alexis (Jesse Borrego), tries out for a modeling job and instead finagles her way into a job as assistant to a semi-sleazy recording industry honcho named Price (Dunne). Because of her knowledge of what the community will respond to musically, she's hired full-time and pressed into action as a sort of B-Girl Friday, advising Dunne on how best to promote (and dress) his up-and-coming acts. Meanwhile, Chino's out of the big house and worrying that his wife is making time on the side with Price, and vice versa. There's so much going on in Martin's film that this brief introduction to the plot is almost pointless; suffice to say, not a moment of screen time is wasted. Velez and Seda have a wonderful onscreen chemistry between them, and young newcomer Melly (who, according to the press release, just walked off the street and got the part) is compelling as their beleaguered son, all sideways glances and quiet, sure movement. This is one of those all-too-rare films that has you bouncing all over the place when you walk out and then calling all your friends when you get home. Irresistible.