Breath of Fresh Air
Rarely does a love story find great success from a straightforward depiction of two people in love. It takes an equal measure of passion for environment, setting, craftsmanship, sense of place, and all the little things in between for an audience to buy into the special relationship unfolding on the screen. With Premature, it could be said that director Rashaad Ernesto Green (Gun Hill Road ) hits upon all those subtleties in an even grander way than he does with the two humans at the filmís center. As a result, Greenís Harlem-centric coming-of-age story is one of the most authentic depictions of loveís inelegance youíll ever see.
Born from the idea that thereís an overabundance of black films that follow the tried-and-true themes of playing the race card, depicting black victimization, black pain, and black death, Green and co-writer/actress Zora Howard flipped the script a bit by setting out to change the narrative to a much simpler one which explores black life and black love. Itís as simple as that. As it turns out, that bit of radical decision-making is Greenís ace-in-the-hole as Premature is a perfectly-executed breath of fresh air.
Set in modern day Harlem, the story is a relatively simple one, told from the point of view of the young female protagonist, 17-year-old aspiring poet and recent high school graduate Ayanna (Howard) who is on the verge of going off to college when she meets musician and producer Isaiah (Joshua Boone, Wheels). But not so simple is the beautiful cinematography from Laura Valladao that plops us down smack dab in the middle of the Harlem summer, the amazing poetry breaks from the multi-talented Howard, and the strength of the supporting cast.
Particularly noteworthy are the performances of Alexis Marie Wint as Ayannaís best friend, and Michelle Wilson as her struggling mother. So many peripheral elements come together so flawlessly itís a wonder Green was able to keep a handle on everything. But he does, and as a result, Premature is a grand exhibition in low-budget filmmaking.
Also a revelation here is Howard in her first role. She also co-writes, and provides the filmís poetry breaks. As actress, she carries forth her multi-faceted Ayanna; balancing a strong black female character with the vulnerabilities of falling in love. Throw in artistic aspirations, a need to fit in with street wise friends, and a fatherless upbringing, and weíre left with nothing but pure respect and admiration as we watch Ayanna stumble through the ups and downs of love. Itís a truly heartbreaking performance.
Green and Howard never hold back when things get tough and love gets ugly. Breaking the mold of typical black films, Premature goes simple with its complicated story of friendship, hardship, tough decisions, and even tougher love. But always rich and fulfilling is Greenís authentic affection for the Harlem neighborhood heís called home for the last twenty years. Aspiring filmmakers, please donít miss this one. Do yourself a favor and pay extra close attention. Premature is proof that one doesnít need a huge budget or spectacular CGI to move an audience.
(Released by IFC Films. Not rated by MPAA.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.