Terracino's film "Elliot Loves" is a sweet, layered look at the lives of a young, gay Dominican American man and his mother that examines how the choices a 16-year-old single woman with a child affect the life of her son, both as a child and, later, as an adult.
Young Elliot (Quentin Davis Araujo) is a feisty kid who does his best to anchor himself in the turbulent life his mother (Elena Goode) provides. Ma brings home lazy, abusive men like Danny (Ben Bauman), even as her sisters and mother look on with growing concern.
As a 21-year-old, Elliot seems on the verge of repeating his mother's fruitless search for love. He regales a hookup named Joe (Monte Bezell) with tales of his life so far, including a three-day love affair with Mikey (Rafael Sardina) that fizzled out and broke his heart. What seems at first glance like a superficial comedy gathers depth and nuance as Elliot pursues a post-Mikey relationship with Kiko (Jermaine Montell), a go-go dancer who's not ready to settle down.
The film cuts between past and present to illustrate how young Elliot's experiences color the expectations and hopes of his adult self. Ma is a dreamer who celebrates a happy viewing experience of "The Price is Right" by yanking her son out of class with a tall tale about tragically killed grandparents. Seeing how his mother's dreams have led nowhere, Elliot, as an adult, yearns for something more substantial to build his life around, but he doesn't know where to begin. His romantic adventures circle around the answer, until they lead Elliot to the only true starting point: Himself.
This is a movie made with care and intelligence, which more than makes up for its limited budget. Saro Varjabedian's creative cinematography and the occasional use of animation bring Terracino's smart, sensitive script to a higher level of cinematic realization, and the editing, by Lyndon McCray, keep the story's beats tight and on target. "Elliot Loves" is a sweet surprise.