By Domenick Rafter
Editor in Chief
Before social media and text messaging, there was an entirely different means of catching up with friends for Queens youths. It usually involved a car, maybe a boombox, possibly a leather jacket. At the epicenter of Friday nights in Queens, during the latter part of the 20th Century, was the 11-mile long Eastern Queens thoroughfare Francis Lewis Boulevard, often referred colloquially to as “Franny Lew.”
Especially on the northern portion of the boulevard in Bayside, Flushing and Whitestone, youngsters from high school age through their mid-20s would meet and cruise up and down the strip, hook up with friends and sometimes get into hairy situations. Also common during these nights out was drag racing, a consistent problem, often leading to deadly consequences, that has shaped the history, and design, of “Franny Lew.”
Now, a new movie being filmed in Whitestone and Bayside seeks to immortalize that era. Set in the summer of 1987, “Cruise,” directed by Robert Siegel, writer of the Oscar-nominated film “The Wrestler,” tells one story of love, friendship and rivalry on Franny Lew.
“It’s our ‘American Graffiti,’” said Gino Cafarelli, the executive producer of “Cruise,” who has a long resume of film credits to his name. A Queens native who grew up in the community around Frannie Lew in the 1980s, Cafarelli, who is also a supporting actor in the movie, described the tone of the movie as “Dirty Dancing meets Saturday Night Fever.”
The movie is inspired by a short called “Franny Lew” that Cafarelli produced. A character actor who had a role in Robert Siegel’s “Big Fan,” Cafarelli said Siegel approached him about making a full-length movie inspired by the short and Siegel wrote the script and called it “Cruise.”
The main character, Gio Marchetti, played by Spencer Boldman (iCarly, 21 Jump Street) is a working-class Italian-American kid who loves cruising the boulevard – often while racing – and is chasing after Jessica Weintraub, played by British model and actress Emily Ratajkowski, a Jewish girl from Long Island in the summer of 1987.
The movie takes place the same year as a car crash that killed a 20-year-old Jackson Heights student. In that incident, a homeowner stood trial, accused of pouring oil on the road to punish constant drag racers. He was acquitted, and the incident led to a crackdown of drag racing on the Whitestone portion of the boulevard. The crash is not mentioned in the film, Cafarelli said, as the crash took place in November and the movie takes place in summer.
“Cruise” finished principal photography on Nov. 13.