In the 1950s and 1960s, Ruben Santiago-Hudson Jr. lives in a lively boardinghouse in the blue-collar town of Lackawanna, New York, with his father after his parents separate. Run by the motherly Nanny Crosby and her taciturn husband, the boardinghouse residents, including The Bandleader, singer Pauline and cabaret owner Dick Barrymore, teach the young boy about life and art. Written by
Ruben Santiago-Hudson insisted his daughter Lily be cast in a cameo as Laura's daughter. But his son Trey, a twin with Lily, wanted to appear in the movie as well, which Ruben accepted. In real life, the character of the abused Laura only had a daughter, not a twin daughter and son. The scene where Laura comes to Nanny's house in the middle of the night with her son and daughter after leaving her abusive husband is accurately re-created word-for-word as Ruben remembered from that night. See more »
During the club scenes during the 1950s, there are a number of 45 rpm singles hanging on the walls. One is a Columbia Records single with the 1970s design and logo. See more »
A Wonderful Ensemble and an Unforgettable Main Character
The centerpiece of Lackawanna Blues is the character Rachel "Nanny" Crosby, who runs a boardinghouse and provides unflagging support to a young boy, Ruben, the narrator of the film. Based upon the experiences of writer-actor Ruben Santiago-Hudson, the film lovingly recreates the upstate New York boardinghouse and evokes the cultural climate of a world in transition in the 1960s.
The first half of the film is virtually non-stop music. The second half addresses more completely the various characters in the boardinghouse. Nanny's ability "to take fragments and make them whole" affects everyone within her sphere. An especially vivid scene is when she confronts an abusive husband, telling him firmly, "If you ever touch that child again, we're going to dance!" As delivered by actress S. Epatha Merkerson, that line is so steely and filled with such resolve that the husband with the hair-trigger temper is frozen in his tracks.
From start to finish, Merkerson delivers a commanding presence Her character binds together the disparate lives of the borders in her home. This was a touching, heartfelt film with a wonderful cast. As played by Merkerson, the character of Nanny simply radiates love. This is a film experience that I will remember for a long time to come.
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