It’s 1983 in New York City, and thirteen year old Oliver (Spencer List) is dealing with the normal rites of passage for a teenager. He’s smoking, talking s**t about how successful he’s been with the opposite sex to his friends Val (Eric Nelsen) and Nick (Tommy Nelson), and generally being flippant with his mother Luna (Pilar López de Ayala) and big sister, Adriana (Courtney Baxter). The only one he seems to show any respect or caring towards is his Chilean housekeeper, Aida (Adriana Barraza), who he loves like the mother he wishes Luna was (Luna opting more for the “best friend” method of parenting rather than the role of authoritarian). When Aida suffers a stroke, the family dynamic is shown for the fragile state that it is constantly in, and Oliver finds himself battling with more than just hormones as his life suddenly seems to be falling apart all around him.
Steve Clark’s feature film, Night Has Settled, takes the stereotypical and spins it within a unique family dynamic. Sure, there’s nothing new to the rebellion and acting out that comes with puberty and growing older, but by framing it within the scope of this particular familial structure, it allows the film to be more than just your typical coming-of-age drama. Aida’s illness is more than just the sickness of a close family friend, it’s like losing the only parent anyone has ever known.
Which ratchets up the drama all the more, as Aida’s role in the family is not just enhanced for Oliver, but for Luna as well. While the basis of their relationship has been employer-employee, it’s clear that Aida’s ability to assume authority in the home has freed Luna to be more of a free spirit. She’s a mother, but her children often act as if that’s just a technicality; everyone knows who is really keeping the home together, until no one is.
As far as the technical aspects go, the film is accomplished in all the right ways. The pace is perfect, the cinematography solid and the audio mix as balanced as it should be. Likewise the performances in the film hit all the right marks, and there’s not a weak link in the bunch. All around, a strong showing in every area I can think to critique. Even if you find the film, despite its flavor, to be too similar to other coming-of-age stories, it’s still up to the task and delivers the familiar well.
Overall, it’s hard to find any elements that come up short, but at the same time, there’s something missing in the film to elevate it to something truly memorable. While I can’t find fault with much, and enjoyed the experience, I can’t say I’d be interested in seeing the film again. It’s an interesting enough story, but it lacks some additional element that would put it over the top. I wish I knew what that element was; it gets so much right, it’s hard to say what it is that is lacking.