January 25, 2024 – This movie, streaming on Netflix, about a family under stress in Harlem in the 1990s and 2000s is one of the top 2023 movies by debut directors (in this case, the debut director is A.V. Rockwell). It won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
This movie is so realistic that it looks like it is based on a true story. It is also the kind of movie where the people seem to be so lucky that you get the feeling something awful is going to happen to them. Instead, there is a surprising twist at the end that defies expectations and ties up loose plot ends to a certain extent.
The story begins with Inez de la Paz (played by Teyana Taylor of the “White Man Can't Jump” remake) getting out of jail where she had served time for robbery. She spots her son, Terry, on the street. Then she finds out that Terry injured himself trying to escape from his foster care home. At the hospital, she decides to offer Terry the opportunity of living with her, even though that will violate the terms of her parole, and she doesn't have a place to live anyway.
The movie follows the story of Inez and Terry over a number of years. Terry is played as a six year-old by Aaron Kingsley Adetola (“Rise”) as a 13-year-old by Aven Courtney (“Strive”) and as a 17-year-old by Josiah Cross (“King Richard”). At first, Inez struggles to find a place to live, as expected for a black woman with a criminal record, trying avoid the police.
Since the authorities are on the lookout for Inez and Terry, she gets fake identity papers for Terry, with an assumed name, so he can go to school. She finds an apartment run by a nice old lady and gets a job as a nurse, although her dream is to have her own hairdressing business. She reunites with her old partner in crime, Lucky (played by William Catlett of “The Devil You Know”).
Eventually, Lucky and Inez get married and Terry becomes a top student in school with good enough grades to get into college. This all seems too good to be true, and it is. Things fall apart. There are secrets about Terry's past that come back to haunt him and Inez, and there are problems between Inez and Lucky.
One of the saddest scenes in the movie happens between Inez and Lucky, when he asks her why she loves him. Speaking of her love for him, he says, “I never really knew where it came from. Or whether or not … I deserved it. Maybe that's why I never fully gave it back.” Inez answers him by saying, “Damaged people don't know how to love each other. That's all.”
Inez, Terry and Lucky are all damaged people in very difficult circumstances, but they certainly do love each other. They try desperately to keep their family together, despite living in a society where they are harassed, preyed upon and undervalued. One of the forces against them is the gentrification of their neighborhood in Harlem. The landlord uses underhanded methods to try to force Inez out of her apartment.
Terry and his friends are frequently harassed by police under Mayor Rudy Guiliani's “stop-and-frisk” policies. Against all these social currents, Inez struggles heroically. Even when it looks like she's defeated, her love for Terry and Lucky triumphs. This movie rates a B.
I've always thought that single mothers are the real heroes of society, even though they get no recognition for their efforts. They often struggle against the odds with a lot of opposition and very little help. Inez is a single mother for several years while she is raising Terry with little help. She is the one constant in his life.
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