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"I need to remember what these people meant to me. What they mean to me."
"My name is Dito...and I'm gonna leave everyone in this film."
—Dito Montiel
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A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is a 2006 Coming-of-Age Story, based on director Dito Montiel's memoirs of his childhood in Astoria, New York. The film has two narratives - the present day in 2005 and Dito's teen years in 1986.

Dito in the present day is now a successful musician and writer but has been estranged from his family for fifteen years. He is persuaded to return to his hometown with the news that his father is ill. He reflects on the summer of 1986, where he dated a girl called Laurie, he befriended a Scottish immigrant called Mike and his best friend Antonio was at constant odds with a local Puerto Rican gang.

A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints freely breaks the fourth wall, employing a few curious Postmodernism tricks along the way -including having excerpts from the script captioned on-screen, while the actors are saying their lines. Dito freely tells us who will die before he properly starts the story too.

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The film stars Robert Downey Jr. as the older Dito - right before his Career Resurrection as Iron Man. Shia LaBeouf stars as the teenage Dito - right before his Star-Making Role in the Transformers. Channing Tatum stars as Dito's best friend Antonio - right before his own Star-Making Role in Step Up. Chaz Palminteri and Dianne Wiest (who were already stars) also feature as Dito's parents.


Tropes:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • Antonio's father frequently hits him. As Monti puts it when telling Dito he loves him "Antonio doesn't have anyone to tell these things to him."
    • Dito's father is more verbally and emotionally abusive, displaying some very narcissistic attitudes towards him too.
  • Adapted Out:
    • Antonio and Giuseppe had a younger brother called Angelo, whose role is given to Mike in the film.
    • Dito also had two older sisters who aren't referenced in the film.
  • Adaptational Heroism:
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    • The movie softens Antonio a little compared to the book, where he escaped from prison, committed another crime and then got sent back. Word of God is that he didn't want Antonio to seem too unsympathetic.
    • Giuseppe is made into a more pitiable character who ultimately dies a very tragic death in contrast to real life where he got deported for being a career criminal.
  • Adaptational Nationality:
    • Mike was Irish in real life, and Scottish in the film (but the characters frequently mistake him for Irish).
    • Dito was also half-Irish in real life on Flori's side. Dianne Wiest who plays Flori ironically has some Scottish ancestry.
  • Adult Fear:
    • Your son frequently spends hours out in the middle of the night and comes home with cuts and bruises on his face. He ultimately runs away and disappears for fifteen years.
    • A child dying from playing around on the train tracks.
  • Age Lift: Dito was fourteen around when the 80s events took place in real life. He's sixteen in the film.
  • Anachronic Order: In some flashbacks, we hear the lines spoken before they're actually said.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Dito (while stoned) declares his love for Laurie right after he's said "I want to lick your pussy".
  • Bait the Dog: Frank initially appears to be friendly and welcoming, if a little quirky. But when the time comes for Mike and Dito to ask him to pay them the money he owes them, he pulls a gun on them.
  • Based on a True Story: Dito Montiel wrote the film based on his own experiences, and that the characters are combinations of a handful of people he knew in real life.
  • Basement-Dweller: Nerf in the present day is still living with his mother. It's clear he hates the situation, but doesn't know how to improve it. Word of God is that the real guy eventually became an ambulance driver and is "doing great".
  • Beauty, Brains and Brawn: Laurie (beauty), Jenny (brains) and Diane (brawn).
  • Beta Couple: Subverted. Antonio and Jenny - best friends to Alpha Couple Dito and Laurie - look like they're hitting it off. But then Jenny disappears from the narrative.
  • Big Brother Bully: Antonio to Giuseppe, as he's seen slapping him around a little. Dito's narration claims that he called Gisueppe his little sister because he wore face cream to bed.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Exploited by Giuseppe when he sits on the train tracks, daring Antonio to save him. Unfortunately then the train comes in.
  • Blue And Orange Contrast: When Mike and Dito are talking by the pool, the water is lit to illuminate the blue. It's framed by the orange of the sidewalk and the street lights.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Done by Laurie, Jenny, Diane, Nerf, Giuseppe and Antonio in a sequence early on in the film.
  • Broken Pedestal:
    • Mike and Dito seem to think of Frank as a cool older guy, but it's clear their image of him is shattered when he stops paying them for helping him and threatens them with a gun.
    • Dito gradually has his image of his father shattered as he realises Monti's narcissistic It's All About Me attitude.
  • Brooklyn Rage: Pretty much everyone in the area is hot-tempered, except for Flori. It's quite telling that the Only Sane Man is the Scottish teen.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Laurie tells Dito to do this. He eventually does.
  • Camp Gay: Frank fits this trope to a T.
  • Casting Gag: Rosario Dawson plays a character who dies of AIDS (although they're still alive by movie's end). They had previously played a character in RENT who also died from AIDS.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The Puerto Rican gang member whose little brother Antonio antagonises and who later beats up Dito reappears to shoot Mike dead.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Antonio, Diane and Jenny rattle off a lot of F-bombs.
  • Color Wash: The flashback scenes have a thick yellowish orange tint, presumably both to reflect the hot summer and the nostalgia.
  • Composite Character: Most of the characters are combinations of various people in Dito's life. Antonio for example is said to represent three different people.
  • Crapsack World: The neighbourhood is rough, with gangs ambushing people in the street and all the residents miserable. Dito is desperate to escape it in his teens. However in the present day, it's subverted as Dito finds beauty in the place despite this.
  • Cycle of Revenge: The Reaper spray paints Nerf's mother's store, Diane and Dito yell at him for it, he spray paints a death threat on Dito's house, Antonio intimidates his brother, he assaults Dito in the middle of the night, Antonio clubs one of his friends to death and the Reaper shoots Mike.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Dito alludes to this when he meets Laurie's son.
    Laurie: His name's Joey.
    Dito: Joey like 'Giuseppe'?
    Laurie: No. Joey like 'Joseph'.
  • Death by Adaptation: Both Giuseppe and Mike are killed in the film, but their real life counterparts lived. They're combined with actual people who died.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: In the 80s portions, characters will freely say 'fag' and 'nigger'.
  • Disappeared Dad: When Dito meets Laurie all grown up, she has a son and says that his father isn't around anymore.
  • Driven to Suicide: Played with. Giuseppe sits down on the train tracks, daring Antonio to save him. He looks as if he tries to get up just as the train comes - but he's too late.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: Giuseppe throws a knife at Diane as a joke, and Laurie calls Dito out assuming he thinks it's funny.
  • Erudite Stoner: Mike has a lot of weed, plus a lot of wisdom.
  • Fanservice: As noted below, Antonio is frequently lacking a shirt or exposing his chest. Meanwhile Laurie and friends are either in tank tops, tube tops, short dresses or hot pants. Of course it is said to be a really hot summer.
  • Fiery Redhead: Inverted. The redhead is the Only Sane Man in contrast to the others.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Downplayed. While Antonio is hardly what you'd call responsible, he's considerably more grounded and sociable than Giuseppe.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The audience is told right away that Dito will end up leaving all his friends. To a lesser extent, viewers will notice the conspicuous absence of Mike and Giuseppe in the present day scenes.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In an early scene where Dito leaves Laurie to have a spin in Nerf's car, she calls out "don't leave me."
    • When Dito first starts talking about going to California, Monti responds "you're not going anywhere." Tempting Fate again.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Giuseppe, Antonio's dumb younger brother. He's the most aggressive and hot-tempered of the gang, and Dito flat out admits that he doesn't like him.
  • Friend Versus Lover: Twice in the movie Dito has to choose between helping Antonio or staying with Laurie. Both times he chooses Antonio.
  • Gag Echo: See Running Gag for the context, but Dito's line when he reunites with Laurie? "Didn't you use to be a swimmer?"
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: In one of the final flashback scenes, Diane has gone swimming topless and some boy called Ronnie has stolen it.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Antonio is clearly a little jealous at Dito hanging around with Mike.
  • Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Laurie in the 1980s has waist-length hair, and shoulder-length hair in the 2000s.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Diane appears to have one, evidenced when she throws a bottle at a Puerto Rican who threatens Dito.
  • Historical Beauty Update:
    • Dito Montiel said that Antonio in real life looked very little like Channing Tatum.
    • Subverted for Dito himself, as he did have a brief career as a model in real life.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Monti says to Antonio that his father "isn't stupid" and tries to defend him. Despite Flori reminding him that he's an abusive Jerkass.
  • Idealised Sex: Averted. Antonio and Jenny try to do it in the stairwell, but Jenny burns herself on the radiator. She's also reluctant to do it because she's all sweaty.
  • I Have No Son!: Not spoken outright but it's strongly implied that this is how Dito and Monti left things right before Dito went to California.
  • Ironic Echo: Monti's lecture about Antonio not having anyone to tell him they love him first happens as Monti is invoking It's All About Me which drives Dito to finally leave town. It is replayed in a much kinder light, as An Aesop just as Dito visits Antonio in prison.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: The film starts as Dito has already finished his book and he's at a reading of it.
  • It's All About Me: Monti frequently tries to make his arguments with Dito all about him. Notably when Dito is trying to tell him that Mike was just shot dead, Monti is more concerned with reprimanding him for raising his voice.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: The adult versions of Nerf and Antonio aren't quite as hunky as the teen versions.
  • I Will Wait for You: Laurie claims she waited for a whole year after Dito left, convinced he would come back for her. She then gave up and had a baby with another man who isn't around anymore.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Most of the characters are deeply flawed in some way, but they all desperately want to escape their situations, and care for each other in their own way. Mike and Flori are probably the only characters that don't have a jerk side to them.
  • Lighter and Softer: The film compared to the book. Though still quite gritty, it tones down a lot of the real life events. Antonio for instance escaped from prison, Giuseppe got deported for being a career criminal, Laurie died of AIDS, the kids frequently snuck into whore houses etc.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Giuseppe from afar in a scene early in the film.
  • Man Hug: Dito and Antonio hug this way when they finally see each other after so long.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Guy: Mike fills a platonic role like this to Dito. His arrival in town and dreams of becoming a musician are what prompt Dito to dream of leaving the neighbourhood.
  • Maybe Ever After: There's some kind of spark between Dito and Laurie when they reunite, although she's still very furious at him for leaving in the first place. Things are left open between them, the climax of the film instead focusing on Dito with his father and Antonio.
  • Missing Mom: Antonio and Giuseppe don't appear to have a mother.
  • Mood Whiplash: When Mike is introduced to the class, he reads a philosophical poem...only to burst out laughing when he sees Giuseppe walking around stark naked outside.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Dito is a writer in real life, and the film is a dramatised version of his memoirs. Mike is also the son of a writer, and desires to become one himself.
  • My Beloved Smother: Monty is a rare male example. It's strongly hinted that the reason he didn't want Dito to go anywhere is because he viewed him as a best friend rather than a son.
  • N-Word Privileges: Frank, who is gay himself, uses the word 'fag' several times.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The Puerto Rican gang leader calls himself 'The Reaper'.
  • Nice, Mean, and In-Between: The three girls. Laurie (nice), Diane (mean) and Jenny (in-between).
  • No Pronunciation Guide: Dito's name is frequently either spoken as 'ditto' or 'dee-toh' by various characters. Word of God is that it's the latter, as his name is short for Orlandito. But his friends always said the former, and that's what stuck.
  • No Social Skills: Giuseppe either doesn't speak a word or says nothing but insults. He also has no problem walking around naked in public or throwing knives at people for fun.
  • Only Sane Man: Mike is the only one of the main characters who doesn't get into a fight and seems to be well-adjusted. Laurie counts to a lesser extent.
  • Pair the Spares: Subverted. Giuseppe seems like he's interested in Diane - since Dito is with Laurie, and Antonio tries to court Jenny - but she won't have anything to do with him.
  • Parents as People: Flori gives Dito this talk after his argument with his father in the present. The film also examines the fact that Monti viewed his son as more of a best friend, which negatively affected their relationship as Dito got older.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Antonio is racist towards Puerto Ricans and homophobic.
  • Postmodernism: In one of the flashbacks to 1980 Dito, Jenny, Diane, Nerf and Laurie address the camera to announce some Foregone Conclusions. Another stylistic choice is to have actions and lines of dialogue repeat over themselves, presumably to show the effect of reminiscing. The script lines also appear on screen sometimes, presumably as passages from Dito's book.
  • Questionable Consent: Jenny is seen telling Antonio that she doesn't want to do it. Cut to him making passes at her, and she's going along with it.
  • Race Lift: The real Laurie was white, but is Puerto Rican in the film.
  • Rapunzel Hair: Laurie in her teen years had long black hair that went almost to her knees. It's shoulder length in the present day.
  • Real Person Cameo:
    • During a phone conversation between Dito and Antonio in the present, the real Antonio is the one speaking. If you listen closely to Dito's words, it's not Robert Downey Jr speaking.
    • The real Monty and Dito cameo in The Stinger.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Characters are divided into two groups.
    • Antonio, Diane, Monti, Frank and Giuseppe are red - all hot-tempered, passionate, outgoing and with very large tempers.
    • Dito, Laurie, Nerf, Mike, Flori and possibly Jenny are blue - more caring, calm, composed and empathetic.
  • Redhead In Green: Mike wears a green t-shirt in one sequence in the film.
  • Rose-Tinted Narrative: Inverted. It's suggested that Dito may be viewing his past as worse than it actually was.
  • Running Gag: People frequently mistake Laurie for a swimmer when she only works at the pool.
  • Scotireland: Mike is Scottish but the other characters frequently mistake him for Irish, presumably because 'Michael O'Shea' sounds like a more stereotypical Irish name. The real Mike actually is Irish.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Dito is planning to leave town and finally does after Mike is shot by a Puerto Rican gang member.
  • Shirtless Scene: Adult Dito gets one while receiving a voicemail from Nerf.
  • Shower of Angst: Dito is about to have one after Mike is shot.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: The film begins on the cynical side, but ends on the idealistic. Word of God is that the story is about discovering beauty and love in harsh environments. Which is what the title represents.
  • Spared by the Adaptation:
    • The real Laurie died of AIDS two years before Dito returned to Astoria. She's alive and well in the film, the real Dito confessing to making this something of a Fix Fic.
    "I wanted to walk down those streets again and fall in love with Laurie again, it would have been nice to have had that moment at the end of the film where Dito met Laurie, reconnecting as adults."
    • Flori had also passed away by the time the film was released, but is still alive and healthy in 2005.
  • Spicy Latina: Although Laurie has some sass, she's more subdued. Her friend Diane on the other hand is a Cluster F-Bomb who screams every other sentence.
  • Team Dad: Downplayed but Monti appears to act as a surrogate father to Antonio. Dito has something of a Heel Realization in the 2000s portions when he realises how hard things must have been for Antonio growing up with an abusive father.
  • Time-Shifted Actor:
    • Robert Downey Jr and Shia Le Beouf as Dito.
    • Rosario Dawson and Melonie Diaz as Laurie.
    • Scott Campbell and Peter Tambakis as Nerf.
    • Channing Tatum and Eric Roberts as Antonio.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Giuseppe sitting on the train tracks, daring Antonio to come and help him.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Antonio by the end.
  • Tsundere:
    • Antonio is a Type A. He's violent and Jerkass most of the time, but Monti brings out his softer side. He does have a sort of twisted protectiveness towards Dito.
    • Laurie is a Type B. She's usually calm and composed, but certain things will provoke her to get a bit angrier.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Laurie and Dito never went anywhere, due to Dito leaving town. When he returns, she's now a mother but no sign of the baby's father.
  • Vague Age: It's not said exactly how old Antonio is in flashbacks. He's not seen attending school so he could be in his early twenties. Further blurring the lines is his younger self being played by a 26-year-old - while fifteen years later he's played by a fifty-year-old.
  • Vapour Wear: When Antonio is trying to do it with Jenny in the stairwell, she's not wearing a bra under her tube top.
  • Villainous Breakdown: If you consider Monti a villain, then his meltdown in the shower definitely qualifies.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Antonio is always seen either completely shirtless or with an open shirt on. The only time he wears clothes properly is for Giuseppe's funeral. There's also a literal example early in the film where Antonio is walking down the street inexplicably shirtless.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Laurie's friends Jenny and Diane are shown as part of the group early on, but they disappear after Giuseppe throws a knife at Diane. They're last seen with Laurie at the pool, but nothing is said about what becomes of them.
    • Frank likewise doesn't get namechecked in the present day portions, though he was still alive for Anthony DeSando to do research on him.
  • Who Wears Short Shorts?: The default attire for Laurie, Jenny and Diane.
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