One of the most impactful scenes in La Familia, the Venezuelan coming-of-age story from director Gustavo Rondón Córdova, takes place on a bus. Hardworking 30-something father Andres (Giovanni García) has just finished a catering gig. His 12-year-old son Pedro (Reggie Reyes) has gotten into a bit of trouble with a local gang, so he brought him to work; he now sits in the seat next to him. A disgruntled shift manager walks up the center aisle of the bus checking bags: Someone has been looting an extra bottle of alcohol each dinner. When the manager gets to Andres, the usually calm father causes a scene, “You already checked our bags!” he protests. But there it is: the bottle – he and his son are unceremoniously ejected from the bus into the streets of Caracas.

This is the part in most coming-of-age tales when father and son usually have a Mufasa-esque heart-to-heart about moral absolutes. “Don't become me,” these dads often say. But not Andres. There is nothing to apologize for, and both father and son know it. After Venezuela's economy collapsed in 2014, life for most of the country's working poor became nothing short of a hustle. Andres himself, is stringing together four or five jobs. Being an adult doesn't mean following the law to the letter — it means keeping your head down and surviving.

The film's dialogue is a bit lean — Andres is at his wit's end keeping his preteen son out of trouble, but he's also a bit of an introvert, not prone to long lectures. His paternal instincts shift into high gear, however, when Pedro's involved in a scuffle outside the family's apartment: Pedro stabs a kid from a neighboring gang, more or less leaving him for dead. Andres knows they have to get the hell out of dodge, so they use the little money they have from Andres's liquor side hustle to catch a cab to the other side of town.

Reyes is a newcomer, but he plays the disaffected 12-year-old with a casual ease. Pedro is annoyed by the fuss and wants to return home as soon as possible. When his dad pleads desperately with his barely-under-control son, Pedro replies, “Everyone knows not to mess with me.” Usually in these sort of adolescent films, we get the impression the tough-guy act is a facade, but with Pedro his hard outer shell doesn't seem like an act. He's on his way to being the sort of thug Andres's friend refuses to associate with, as she closes her front door to the fleeing duo. While Andres devises another plan, Pedro has no problem expressing frustration with his father, who he sees as both passive and ineffective.

But as the two suddenly find themselves homeless, Pedro undergoes a slow but ultimately believable arc from reckless child to realistic adult. He follows his dad from job to job over the new few days, helping him paint walls and sand doors. It's another contrast from North American cinema: The viewer expects the contrarian teenager to protest at every request that he help with the work, but he doesn't. We get the impression that he didn't understand just how much his father did to keep their fragile existence together. But it's also something of a precipice: Just as Pedro would do anything to show his toughness on the streets of Caracas, he seems just as willing to prove he can pull off the grueling day-to-day labor of his father. Somehow in this silent observance and mimicry of his father, Pedro's angry streak mellows. The two leads provide well-tempered performances, where heartache is felt not spoken.

In a film where we spend an unusual amount of time watching two guys paint walls side by side, it's Pedro's fickle recklessness that keeps the tension going. Even as he realizes his dad was probably right to flee the city, he worries about his best friend back home. It seems certain if he returns to Caracas his life will be at risk, but at twelve, he doesn't seem to fully grasp his own mortality. Andres's heart is in the right place, but underlying the script seems to be the ageless question of nature versus nurture. Can Andres protect his son from their environment? Can Andres protect his son from himself?

It's hard to read the film's title in any other way: When an economy collapses, when you lose your home, your job, and your way of life, the only safety net that remains is the family. La Familia is a different kind of coming-of-age story. When you're poor, it's not about discovering who you want to be, it's about coming to terms with the lot life has given you. That path seems a bit easier when you're not alone.