Every day that passes in New York City, Jeff finds a way to get through it. Maybe he’s driven to find love. Maybe he’s driven to find a connection. Or maybe he’s just driven to do what he has to do to survive, however erratic or unforgivable it might be

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“You don’t know my name, do you?” It’s a cringe-worthy question no matter the context, but in the age of near-instant hookups, it’s also become a familiar dating trope. In Julian Muller’s Staff Pick Premiere “Sickboy” this question and seemingly comedic set-up turns into something more troubling as it prompts Jeff, the film’s protagonist, to quickly abandon his date altogether. The ease of his exit lets us know he’s done this before.

As Jeff roams aimlessly through NYC, drinking and rambling, it’s clear that Muller and screenwriter Conor Champley have a more humanist character study in mind. With cinematographer John Kopec, their work explores homelessness and mental health with empathetic eyes.

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Shot on film and inspired by the Safdie brothers’ gritty New York portraits, “Sickboy” feels like it’s headed in a downward spiral until Jeff spots his next con sitting on a park bench. Antonio Magro’s performance as Jeff is rooted in loneliness but the charm that lures his victims is so convincing that their chemistry seems undeniable. Jeff walks a fine line between an expert freeloader and someone simply doing his best to survive. In the film’s final moments, a real human connection might finally change his way.

Starring: Antonio Magro, Sarah Wisser, and Rachel Hale

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