If you could cut all the music from Where God Left His Shoes, you might actually have a solid family drama. A well-meaning stab at neorealism sunk by its audience-pandering tendencies, Salvatore Stabile’s Sundance prize-winner follows a down-on-his-luck boxer in New York City as he attempts to find a job and shelter for his family. We meet Frank Diaz (John Leguizamo) just as he’s finding out that he has been cut from his upcoming fight, leaving him with no job or source of income. He returns home to his wife Angela (Leonor Varela) and kids Justin (David Castro) and Christina (Samantha Rose), only to be greeted by a police officer informing him that he is being removed from his apartment. Cut to two months later: It’s Christmas, Frank and his family are living in a shelter, and Frank is doing off-the-books construction work to make ends meet when he gets a call about an available apartment. But since this is a humanitarian drama about the plight of the downtrodden, there’s a catch: he needs to find a job. An on-the-books job. By six-o-clock. So Frank and Justin set out across the city in search of employment.
Where God Left His Shoes is the kind of movie that throws obstacle after contrived obstacle in its determined hero’s way and features a number of earnest speeches about What It Means to Be a Man. And yet it all works, mostly, thanks to Stabile’s strong sense for family relationships and his cast’s lived-in performances (Leguizamo, for what it’s worth—not much, probably—has never been better than he is here), and the ending is surprisingly bittersweet, cleverly side-stepping a telegraphed happy resolution. But nothing can make up for some of those ham-fisted speeches, or the countless employers refusing to help Frank because of their “policies” (institutions don’t care about the little man!), or the music, which ranges from the lazily ironic (cheery Christmas tunes) to the schmaltzy with no room in between. It’s cheap emotional manipulation for a topic that needs none: The Bicycle Thief for the Starbucks generation.