There is beauty among the broken in writer/ director Adrian Martinez’s iGilbert, a dreamlike ode to human connection at a time in which our phones keep us safely cradled in our own bubble of safety. Coating its New York backdrop in a romantic gauze, the film tells the story of Gilbert (Adrian Martinez), a reclusive, overweight, middle-aged man who struggles to emerge from under his mother’s protective wing and establish an actual physical connection with a woman.
He lives with his mother (Socorro Santiago) in the family’s brownstone that is leased to tenets to subsidize the mortgage. His father (Emilio Delgado) apparently died when Gilbert was younger, and whose wandering eye provided no role model for his young son. His battle with weight includes multiple daily insulin shots between extravagant meals perpetually prepared by his mother.
Friendless, Gilbert often communicates with his dead father’s apparition, who dons a vaudevillian Charlie Chaplin getup and lingers in the background throughout the film. The only other human interaction Gilbert has is equally as one-sided, using his phone to snap candid pictures of women as they pass by.
“…Gilbert’s phone happens to capture a drunken metro passenger loudly boasting of his criminal act.”
One woman, in particular, occupies a large portion of his phone’s photo cache: Jana (Dascha Polanco). Jana resides on the lower floor of his family’s home and is often visited by an abusive boyfriend. His stays there usually culminate in wall-rattling shouting matches. Gilbert has long admired her from a distance but is far too timorous to actually confront either of them outside of passing, uncomfortable greetings.
Serendipity steps in when Gilbert’s phone happens to capture a drunken metro passenger loudly boasting of his criminal act. He hands the video to the police as evidence, which elevates our protagonist to a local celebrity hero. But we understand that despite this one action, he is no saint. iGilbert ensures that their characters are far messier than to paint them with such broad strokes. He is a broken man in a city of fractured souls.
Martinez is a familiar face in comedy, having co-starred alongside Amy Schumer (I Feel Pretty), Ben Stiller (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty), and Zach Galifianakis (It’s Kind of a Funny Story). Making his writing and directing debut here, he makes sure that Gilbert is worthy of pity but not entirely exonerated from his voyeuristic tendencies. It’s a needle-threading feat, but Martinez’s combined strengths in each of his roles manage this delicate dance.
The film is buoyed by its bevy of strong supporting performances from Polanco and Santiago. But the true standout is the ethereal, haunting score from Gil Talmi and Gisela Fulla-Silvestre at Konsonant Music. The melody slips into scenes like a whisper before enveloping them in a melancholic haze of unrequited romance. iGilbert is determined to present its characters as profoundly flawed but salvageable. They may not have always made the best decisions, but we root for them to find their footing on the right path.
"…worthy of pity but not entirely exonerated from his voyeuristic tendencies."