This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
"Manito" sees an everyday tragedy with sadness and tenderness, and doesn't force it into the shape of a plot. At the end, the screen goes dark in the same way a short story might end; there isn't one of those final acts where we learn the meaning of it all. Sometimes in life bad things happen and they just happen. There's nothing you could have done, and no way to fix them, and you are never going to get over the pain.
The movie, a heartfelt debut by writer-director Eric Eason, takes place in Washington Heights, a Latino neighborhood of New York City, where we meet the Moreno family. Junior (Franky G.) runs a plastering and painting crew, and his kid brother Manny (Leo Minaya) is an honor student who is graduating today from high school, and headed to Syracuse on a scholarship.
In an unforced, natural way, we meet the characters. Junior spent time in prison, and is determined to stay straight. Manny, known as Manito, is not tough like his brother. Junior is a ladies' man; there's a well-observed scene with his wife Miriam (Julissa Lopez), who won't even listen to his excuses when he sends her home without him. Manito is more shy, but gets up the nerve to ask Marisol (Jessica Morales), his classmate, to the graduation party in his honor.
This party is a big deal. The family is proud of Manito and his scholarship, and has rented a hall and hired a band--paid for by Junior, and also by Grandpa Abuelo (Hector Gonzales), who in a scene of sly comedy visits a local bordello and brings out his line of trashy lingerie. Humor pops up unexpectedly, as when Junior needs to hire day laborers and discovers that all of the prospects are wearing white shirts and ties. Why? A restaurant closed, and they lost their jobs.