'We Grown Now' - Sensitive and Insightful

"We Grown Now" via IMDb.

Writer/director Minhal Baig’s third feature film “We Grown Now” (Sony Pictures Classics) officially announces her arrival as an important filmmaker. While it’s a much smaller film than say “Moonlight” or “American Fiction,” it nevertheless is sensitive, insightful, and even if you’re grown, you will probably cry at the end.

Set in 1992, in Chicago’s notorious Cabrini-Green public housing projects (which the second Mayor Daley began to demolish in 1999), it opens with young best friends Malik and Eric (Blake Cameron James and Gian Knight Ramirez, respectively, both making their film debuts) dragging a mattress through the hallways and down the stairs in their shared building to the playground where they practice jumping. 

Malik lives with his mother Dolores (Jurnee Smollett), grandmother Anita (S. Epatha Merkerson), and younger sister. Eric lives one floor below with his older sister Amber (Avery Holliday) and strict father Jason (Lil Rel Howery). The relationships between the family members feel authentic, and the depiction of the boys’ friendship also rings true. They share an interest in the Chicago Bulls, as well as in letting their imaginations run wild when it comes to envisioning the lives of others – whether it’s their teacher, a woman on an elevated train, or a couple arguing.

This bond helps them get through an especially difficult time. The true event of the murder of 7-year-old Dantrell Davis, who was caught in the crossfire of two rival gang members, throws Cabrini-Green, as well as the school the neighborhood kids attend, into turmoil. Suddenly, there is an increased police presence. The Chicago Housing Authority forced all residents, regardless of age, to carry ID cards, and a 2 a.m. police search of apartments became a disruptive occurrence.

But boys will be boys, and one day during a boring nature documentary, Malik and Eric decide to leave school and embark on a city adventure – taking the train to the Art Institute and Union Station – unaware that by doing that, especially after the death of the younger boy, would have a devastating effect on their respective parents. This, among other things, set change in motion, including Dolores and Anita giving serious consideration to relocating the family to somewhere safer.

“We Grown Now” builds on the strength of its final message; which is “A place is the people.” They can be family, best friends, neighbors, classmates, and teachers, even if the place itself isn’t exactly the best or the safest. The people in “We Grown Now,” are the definition of survivors, and their story is one that stays with us, long after the final credits roll. 

Rating: B+


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