- The Magazine
Treading with care around provocative subject matter, Daniel Armando’s A Boy Like That explores unequal power dynamics in a relationship fraught with mystery and apprehension. Arriving in Queens, New York from Jalisco, Mexico to teach acting at the New School, 40-year old Harold (Jaime Zevallos) finds himself inadvertently sharing his Airbnb with 17-year-old Felix (Andres Nicolas Chaves), who grows increasingly attached to the older man.
Writer-director Armando dealt with similar themes of taboo desires, although in markedly different contexts, in his previous features Daddy’s Boy and The Breeding. Abetted by frequent collaborators producer Dane Joseph and cinematographer Ryan Balas, Armando has evinced a reflective, sensual style that envelopes these stories in “will-they-or-won’t-they” suspense.
In Harold and Felix’s case, they shouldn’t, and the film walks a fine line limning the teacher’s struggle to maintain a purely platonic bond, despite the youngster’s affectionate nature and aversion to clothing. Colombian actor Chaves, a convincing onscreen teen, is of age, and his Felix turns out to be no mere innocent. But Felix is a boy — yet one who quite painfully reminds Harold of his first love, Pablo Antonio, who died soon after he and teenaged Harold had their first kiss.
In a poignant twist, we learn Felix is mourning a loss of his own. Harold tries to remain a mentor to the grieving kid, while staying open to hookups with age-appropriate partners, like hunky property manager Eddie (Juvian Marquez). Throughout, Armando stirs the pot with flashbacks, fantasies, a surprise family reunion, and a somewhat incongruous but strangely riveting, off-the-rails dinner party with a Trump-supporting Latina from Texas and another daddy with his eye on Felix.
The film — this month’s selection for the Reel Affirmations On Demand film series — makes many bold, romantic flourishes, from its repeated flashes of lovers intertwined, rolling in the sand and waves like a Herb Ritts fantasy, to a scene of teacher Harold quoting Neruda and Ephesians to his eager pupil. Armando also slips in an eye-catching reference to Kubrick’s take on Lolita to go along with the parade of red flags warning Harold to slow his roll. Will they, or won’t they, and what might be gained or irrevocably lost?
Amid strains of Brett Walling’s haunting original score, alternating with Debussy and Bizet classics, Harold and Felix work to free themselves, and perhaps each other, from past regrets.
A Boy Like That is available to screen virtually from 12 a.m. Friday, April 30 to 11:59 p.m. Sunday, May 2. Tickets are $10, and include access to the film, plus a pre-recorded Zoom Q&A with director Armando and producer Joseph. Visit https://thedccenter.org/events/aboylikethat.
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