Ekaj (Indie Rights Movies, NR)

You’ve heard this story before—a young person ditches their nowheresville home town for the bright lights of New York City. Through a combination of luck, talent, and good old-fashioned pluckiness, they rise to the top of and even the folks back home who used to scorn them now line up to get their autograph. Lessons are learned and everyone lives happily ever after.

That’s a nice fairy tale that has furnished the plot for more than a few Golden Age Hollywood movies, not to mention a few of more recent vintage. The reality of trying to making it in New York City, without connections or assets, is something quite else, and it is the latter premise that provides the narrative structure for Cati Gonzalez’s Ekaj, which refuses to romanticize the struggles of their characters yet still recognizes the beauty in their lives.

The central character, Ekaj (Jake Mestre; “Ekaj” is “Jake” spelled backwards) is a teenager from New Jersey whose sexual preference makes him inacceptable to his conservative father (Vinny Cruz). So Ekaj he heads to New York City with no particularly marketable skills but with a strong desire to find a life where he can be himself. Someone from a more privileged economic class might have had four years to sort that all out at the college of their choice, but Jake has to do the hard work of finding himself and his place in the world with no more resources than he can raise off his beauty and his determination.

Ekaj hopes to find a rich man to take care of him, but discovers that while his clients are willing to purchase his services on the short term, none seem to be interested in him on a more permanent basis. He finds more stability through his friendship with the remarkably tattooed Mecca (Badd Idea), who has plenty of problems of his own, including drug addiction and AIDS, but also provides both affection and guidance to Ekaj. That’s a lot more than Ekaj gets from ostensibly more respectable characters like Johnny (Scooter LaForge), an artist with whom Ekaj hopes to have a real relationship, only to find that he’s been relegated to the category of an object of use and abuse.

Ekaj is a fictional story with actors cast in the roles, but it feels as real as any documentary. More real, in fact, as it delivers a heightened dose of reality while also capturing aspects of present-day New York City that have emphatically not been Disneyfied. The actors are first-timers or close to it, so you won’t be distracted by recognizing them from other roles. Many are accomplished in fields outside of acting as well: Mestre is a model (part of his IMDB bio sounds like something Ekaj might have written: “He holds several jobs here and there to support himself…”), Badd Idea is a musician, painter, and model, and LaForge is a painter and costume designer. They’re all amazing, and Ekaj is the perfect vehicle to showcase their talent.

Ekaj is available on many streaming services including Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, YouTube Movies, Roku, Xbox and Filmdoo. More information about this film is available from its official website. |Sarah Boslaugh

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