A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints Review
Dito (Downey, Jr) has left the dust of his hometown, the tough neighbourhood of Astoria, Queens, New York, long behind him and made a new life for himself as a writer in Los Angeles. And he’s quite happy to stay there until he gets a call from his mother (Wiest) telling him that his father Monty (Palminteri) is seriously ill and that he needs to come home.
Revisiting his old haunts, hanging out with his friends and seeing his childhood sweetheart, Laurie, (Dawson), memories come flooding back. Memories of the summer of ‘86, when the younger Dito (LaBeouf) was hanging out with his ‘Saints’; as well as Laurie, and his best friends Antonio (Tatum) and Guiseppe (Adam Scarimbolo), newcomer Mike (Compston), a Scot who shares Dito’s dreams of escape and a better life.
Astoria is a pretty rough neighbourhood, run by gangs on Darwinian principles. Dito pretty much accepts that this is the way that things are, but when Mike arrives, Dito’s eyes are opened and he begins to see that there is more to life than Queens. He and Mike ride the subway out to Coney Island, and get a job dog-walking in Manhattan. His new interests don’t go unnoticed, and his father, in particular. is hurt and bewildered. Dito, in turn, is torn. His hunger for experience, to be true to himself, clashes against his instinctive loyalty to friends and family.
A Guide to Recognising Your Saints (an awkward title, to say the least) is the directorial debut of writer Dito Montel, and is based on his own memoir of the same name. Unlike his fictional counterpart, Montel formed a punk band in the 1970s and became part of Manhattan’s glitterati, hanging out with Andy Warhol, Liza Minelli and Allen Ginsberg. The cinematic Dito, having exiled himself to Los Angeles, lives a very different life to the one he imagined growing up. Confronting his past, and reconciling with it, and particularly his father, is the essence of Dito’s journey in the film.
Montel has assembled a fine cast of both older and younger actors; it’s good to see Dianne Wiest back on the silver screen and she’s well matched by Paminteri as Dito’s macho, working class father. Rosario Dawson is wasted in her cameo as grown-up Laurie, though she and Downey share a couple of sweet little scenes. The younger cast do sterling work; LaBoeuf, and Compston are excellent, and the film boasts a scorching performance from Tatum as the abused Antonio.
The eighties setting is well realised and its fun to remember the first video recorders and the days before mobiles and air con and email. Unfortunately the film is a bit meandering, and the script’s attempts at teenage verisimilitude – mumbling and swearing – get old pretty quickly. Constant cross-cutting from the present to the past, while not confusing, slows the pace further. Also, Monty’s desire to protect Dito seems initially sweet but then incomprehensible and overbearing, especially from the son of immigrants.
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