Thanks largely to the Sundance Film Festival Institute, emerging filmmaker Dee Rees was able to “finish” the 2007 short film of the same title and fully explore her vision as a cinematic storyteller.
In large measure, she succeeds.
Coming to terms with sexuality during the teen years is seldom a smooth ride for anyone. Living in a Brooklyn family where the breadwinner (Charles Parnell is ideally cast as Arthur) is a cop whose devotion to duty sometimes slips into the “I deserve it realm” of extra-marital dalliances and mom (Audrey comes to stoic life thanks to Kim Wayans’ steady-where-she-goes performance) is determined to have her eldest daughter turn out right, can become misery on Earth.
For the beautifully named Alike (affectionately known as Lee), it’s already clear that boys are not turning her crank. Adepero Oduye soars through the challenging part with a sense of wisdom beyond her years. When she declaims “I’m not runnin’ [from her impossible life], I’m changing,” she makes more sense than all of those around her.
Included in her special group are two potential life partners, but both have different ways of demonstrating their friendship, love and—more frequently—lust.
Pernell Walker infuses the role of Laura with just the right mixture of affection, concern and aloofness. Whether she will survive the transition to “freedom” gives the possibility of a sequel some strong momentum.
In one of the narrative’s best moments of irony, dragging Alike away from a known bad influence (based on older generational mores) into the world of the model of what a young woman ought to be only furthers the old adage: You can’t tell a book by its cover. Once Bina (coyly rendered by Aasha Davis) drops her false front, revealing herself as cut from the same sexual cloth as her “going through a phase” new companion, hope springs eternal for Alike until she realizes that “what happened last night” meant nothing: it was just for fun.
Rees, through her characters, speaks with a wonderful sense of been-there vérité that will resonate with anyone who has puzzled their way through puberty, found an apparent anchor before crashing painfully back to Earth with the realization that duplicity is not confined to bored-again adults.
Here’s hoping a further installment will find its way to the big screen before too long, this filmmaker’s obvious talent and understanding of craft should be further encouraged to grow and blossom. JWR