This movie is a remake of a 1953 classic film with the same title. I have not seen the original, but taken on its own, this is quite an impressive first effort by director Joanna Lipper. Most of this film's negative criticism tends to compare this film with the original, and perhaps Lipper shot herself in the foot by adopting the original title. After all, it seems this is more of an appropriation than an adaptation, and it deserves to be viewed for its own merits rather than trying to compete with a film with an already established reputation.
The premise is the same as the original: older brother plays prank on younger brother. Younger brother thinks he has killed older brother and flees to Coney Island. The original premise may be the same, but Lipper seems more concerned with making a statement about social problems and family. Not that this is a message movie, but she definitely shows a sensitivity for all the characters in her film, and we sympathize with each one: the imprisoned father (Peter Dinklage), the overworked alcoholic mother (a brilliant performance by relatively unknown Justina Machado), but the movie really belongs to the young actors who play the two boys, David Castro and Nicolas Marti Salgado. Lipper inspires in these two a naturalistic approach to their roles that is steeped in childhood. Like Jem and Scout in Robert Mulligan's great adaptation of _To Kill a Mockingbird_, these two boys become the two brothers Lenny and Joey. However she does it, Lipper inspires in these two actors an incredibly convincing performance. It is easy to imagine these two as brothers in real life, and it is surprising we have seen them in few roles since this film.
In conclusion, I am not sure how this measures up to the original film, but it stands on its own and, for what it's worth, deserves to be judged on its own merits rather than on its inability to live up to critics' pre-conceived notion of what this film should be. We should, rather, see it for what it is -- a sensitive, memorable film.