Confrontation and Community in “7lbs 8oz”

About halfway through the film “7lbs 8oz,” Anthony—a gruff neighborhood fixture with hairy feet, an ostentatious gold chain, and a fuhgeddaboudit Jersey accent—sidles up to a new mother who’s moving onto the block and asks a question that gives her pause. “How much does she weigh?” he says, jabbing a mottled finger in the direction of her crying infant. When she reluctantly tells him, he pulls out a phone and instructs the person on the other end of the line to “put me down for seven-zero-eight.” The mother, Yujin, stomps away in a huff. She doesn’t yet see that Anthony is betting on her in more than one sense.

Inspired by the filmmaker Yoo Lee’s experience of moving to Jersey City, “7lbs 8oz” brings levity to weighty subjects and delights in subverting expectations. From the film’s first shot, of a sign graffitied to suggest that the neighborhood is “So FAR to New York City!,” it appears that the locals might be resisting the tides of gentrification by digging in their heels and declaring Eighth Street an island. Meanwhile, Yujin is identifiable as a big-city transplant from the moment her moving van—emblazoned with the fussy promise of “White Glove Service”—pulls onto the block. And so, when the old-timer and the interloper come together over the baby stroller, we’re braced for a confrontation that never arrives. Instead, Yujin learns that her new community is more accepting than expected, and sweeter for being a little rough around the edges.

When Lee bought a house on the real Eighth Street, in 2006, her “really old-fashioned” neighbors didn’t know what to make of her, even calling her a “Chinaman” at first. But, with time, Lee came to a realization: “Their intention wasn’t to offend me,” she said. “Their intention was to engage with me.” Lee accepted their repeated offerings of homemade meatballs and brought them little cakes in return, she said. Eventually, she, too, became one of the locals. When Lee’s daughter was born, in the middle of an enormous snowstorm, her neighbors spent hours shovelling her car out of the snow so that she could drive to the hospital.

After moving away from Jersey City, in 2017, Lee began to create animations to entertain her daughter, gravitating toward stories that starred the motley cast of characters she’d left behind on Eighth Street. The warm and fuzzy world of “7lbs 8oz” is replete with subtle details that reward a second glance: a framed portrait of Pope John Paul II cheesing as if for a yearbook photo, for example, or a handwritten sign, taped to a telephone pole, declaring “FOUND: VERY SLOBBERY CAT” over an image of a possum.

Lee, a former fashion designer, is particularly interested in the textural aspects of stop-motion animation. “I don’t like the slickness of C.G.I., the coldness,” she said. With stop-motion, the labor-intensive process of building and manipulating a miniature world by hand invariably allows real life to creep into the frame; Lee joked that her golden retriever’s fur made it into every shot. When I spoke with Lee, over 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 fabricated. “You can see the cracks in the paint behind me, and I think that’s what life is,” she said. “It has flaws and beauties and textures.” ♦

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