By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Having been a fan of 1990s “hood” movies like Menace II Society, Boyz n the Hood, and others, I enthusiastically jumped at the chance to review what I had originally thought to be a film that takes place in the 90s. To my pleasant surprise, this movie actually doesn’t take place in that era, but portrays a trio of teens obsessed with the hip hop music and fashion of that time. In addition, I was further surprised with how ingenious the film really is. Writer/director Rick Famuyiwa (The Wood) takes the expected elements from “hood” films, but gives his audiences a fresh and completely different perspective from those of his predecessors. This inventive and entertaining film effectively mixes comedy and drama and makes for a exciting and fun experience at the cinema.
Living in “The Bottoms” is not easy, especially for geeky teens infatuated with 90s hip hop. Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his buddies Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) not only have to avoid getting jumped by gangs on the streets, they must endure the bullying and ridicule of the classmates who prey on them regularly. One day, Malcolm surprisingly gets invited to an underground party which he and his friends are more than eager to attend. On this fateful night, things get a bit wild when the party gets raided by police. When Malcolm discovers that he left the party with more than what he originally brought, he and his buddies must figure out their next move. Regardless of what they decide, their lives will never, ever be the same.
I have to say that I am quite impressed with Fauyiwa’s latest film. Considering that his previous work has been okay, but nothing extraordinary, this movie could turn out to be his masterstroke. What really strikes me about most “hood” films is that most of them focus on what are considered to be “cool” characters. The protagonists, whether or not they participate in illegal activities, generally are accepted by the “thugs”. For example, in Boyz n the Hood, Trey Styles, even though he is more straight-laced, can hang out with Doughboy (Ice Cube) and his crew without any bullying or any cruel ridicule, save for fun, good-natured ribbing. This film shows the geek experience in the hood and the real drama that comes with it.
I also rather enjoyed that, the obviously 90s-savvy, Fauyiwa celebrates the music, culture and fashion of the 90s through the eyes and voices of these young admirers. As someone who finished his teens and entered his twenties during that time, I loved the use of the music and the straight-faced approach to the clothes and hairstyles. This truly appeals to my nostalgic heart. Besides the aesthetics, Fauyiwa and his cast offer stellar work in developing these characters well also.
Shameik Moore, who portrays main character Malcolm, really delivers the stand-out performance of the film. He brings a genuine, wide-eyed innocence to Malcolm, and clearly has the talent for more extraordinary work. As his best friends Diggy and Jib, Kiersey Clemons and Tony Revolori also deliver solid work. Clemons is best known for her work in the Amazon series, Transparent, and movie buffs will remember Revolori’s wonderful performance as Zero in The Grand Budapest Hotel.
In a couple of breakthrough comic performances, I must acknowledge Chanel Iman who portrays an out-of-control character named Lily, and Blake Anderson who plays a stoner/computer hacker named Will. My only complaint is an a grating, over-acting by Roger Gueneveur Smith who stars as businessman Austin Jacoby. I feel that there is no need for the over-exaggerated performance he delivers. As genuine and realistic as this film gets, his portrayal of this key character just feels out of place.
That really is my only gripe with this truly remarkable and lovable movie. I’m sure some parents will take some exception to the content of the movie, particularly the behavior, language, and decisions of the characters. This movie may be about teens, but I wouldn’t recommend the film for anyone under 16. It is certainly a movie that still warrants discussion afterward. For all the grownup movie buffs who know and love “hood” movies, this is, without a doubt, a must-see film, and one that should still hold up upon repeated viewings.