About halfway through the movie “7lbs 8oz,” Anthony, a gruff neighborhood character with hairy feet, a flashy gold chain, and a fuhgeddaboudit Jersey Accent: Sneaks up to a new mom moving down the block and asks her a question that makes her stop. “What’s her weight?” she says, pointing a speckled finger in the direction of her crying baby. When she reluctantly tells him, he pulls out a phone and tells the person on the other end to “put me on seven-zero-eight.” The mother, Yujin, walks away angrily. She still doesn’t see that Anthony is betting on her in more ways than one.
Inspired by filmmaker Yoo Lee’s experience of moving to Jersey City, “7lbs 8oz” brings levity to important themes and delights in subverting expectations. From the first shot of the film, a sign painted to suggest the neighborhood is “So far from New York City!”, it seems that locals might be resisting the tides of gentrification by standing their ground and declaring Eighth Street an island. . Meanwhile, Yujin is identifiable as a big-city transplant from the moment his moving van, emblazoned with the exacting promise of “White-Collar Service,” pulls up to the block. And so, when the veteran and the interloper get together over the baby carriage, we set ourselves up for a confrontation that never comes. Instead, Yujin learns that his new community is more tolerant than expected and sweeter for being a bit rough around the edges.
When Lee bought a house on the real Calle Ocho in 2006, his “really old-fashioned” neighbors didn’t know what to do with it, even calling it “Chinese” at first. But, in time, Lee realized: “She didn’t mean to offend me,” she said. “His intention of hers was to commit to me.” Lee accepted their repeated offers of homemade dumplings and brought them small cakes in return, she said. Eventually, she too became one of the locals. When Lee’s daughter was born, in the middle of a massive snowstorm, her neighbors spent hours shoveling her car out of the snow so she could drive to the hospital.
After moving from Jersey City in 2017, Lee began creating animations to entertain her daughter, focusing on stories starring the motley cast of characters she had left behind on Eighth Street. The warm, fuzzy world of “7lbs 8oz” is packed with subtle details that reward a second glance: a framed portrait of Pope John Paul II making cheese like a yearbook photo, say, or a handwritten poster pasted on taped to a telephone pole. , to declare “FOUND: VERY SLOOPY CAT” over a picture of a possum.
Lee, a former fashion designer, is particularly interested in the textural aspects of stop-motion animation. “I don’t like the CGI prowess, the coldness,” he said. With stop-motion, the painstaking process of building and manipulating a miniature world by hand invariably allows real life to creep into the frame; Lee joked that his golden retriever’s fur appeared in every shot. When I spoke to Lee, via Zoom, she was using a photo of the “7lbs 8oz” set as a backdrop, creating the impression that she, too, was an inhabitant of the world she had made. “You can see the cracks in the paint behind me, and I think that’s just life,” she said. “It has flaws, beauties and textures.” ♦