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Thread: PREMATURE (Rashaad Ernesto Green 2019)

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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    PREMATURE (Rashaad Ernesto Green 2019)



    A Harlem romance

    Premature has engaging leads and evokes contemporary Harlem with incredibly vivid, authentic atmosphere and funky African American language of today. This isn't the more polite and formalized African American talk of The Photograph, though that's a more fully imagined, more satisfying movie. (Both have a romanticism and warm sensuality that conventional, mainstream white, American movies rarely possess these days). When the people talk in Premature, especially in groups, the rude, tasty vernacular they use really pops and comes to life. Where things don't go so well is the foreground story. Even though that too has strength and realness, it feels off in various respects.

    One problem is that the lead actress has outgrown the part she plays. This feature is based on a short film of the same name that the director made with Zora Howard, both his co-writer and female lead here, back in 2008. The short focused on a teenager who gets pregnant when she shouldn't and doesn't want to be. If Zora Howard could play a teenager back then, doing so now, twelve years later, has to have been a bit of a stretch. Nonetheless Howard does play Ayanna here, a girl about to go away to college who gets pregnant by her new boy friend, Isiah (Joshoa Boone). Ayanna doesn't look like a teenager; Isiah, who works in a recording studio, is obviously an adult. But I kept wondering why Ayanna acted so immature.

    Some key action feels vague or underdeveloped, and that comes largely from non-communication. It may seem puzzling that among these Harlem black people, who come off as so outspoken, people turn out to be so bad at talking to each other. In some ways Ayanna is shy and sensitive. She won't show her notebook to Isiah but he sneaks a look. And being an aspiring songwriter himself, (but more of a producer than a full-on part of the creative side, it's made clear) he appreciates Ayanna's imagination and says "this is lyrical!" "You're a lyricist!" She has talent. (Unfortunately, when I saw the film projected in the auditorium, the sound of the music drowned out Ayanna's reading for Isiah of his favorite of her poems.)

    When a former lover of Isiah's appears, Ayanna isn't shy at all about confronting him with a hostility and aggression that threatens to scare him off. "Did you fuck her?" she keeps repeating. But she's going to let him down soon enough.

    The filmmaker has acknowledged in interviews that Joshoa Boone, the actor cast as Isiah, was clearly older, but that made casting the older Zora Howard work better. And it does. Isiah also is immature and uncertain in some ways. Adept with helping a professional singer in the studio (another cause of jealousy for Ayanna), he can't get his own song completed. This could explain his attraction to a Ayanna: he isn't as mature as he appears. It's complicated, and that's okay. They are fine together - so long as we disregard that Ayanna is supposed to be just out of high school.

    This movie is mostly about this relationship, its intensity, and its confusion. Within that sphere, it's powerful. But it almost seems to explode other stuff - such as normal communication. Because when Ayanna gets in the family way, she says nothing to the man who has caused this situation, Isiah, and nothing to anybody else either till she has taken drastic steps. At one point, her mother suspects when she has a craving for pickles (that's an old one, isn't it?), and her mother gives Ayanna's stomach a long, meaningful feel. But neither woman says anything.

    Ayanna doesn't seek any medical advice, either, either sooner or later; perhaps that's natural, especially if she's a teenager. Finally, Isiah, alienated by the silences, firmly shuts Ayanna out after he has learned she has kept something so huge as her pregnancy a secret from him. He decares that this means he can never trust her.

    So for all the up front, bawdy, challenging talk, silences are huge here. The movie itself isn't forthcoming either, naturally enough, choosing not to reveal clearly if a reconciliation is occurring or not when Ayanna is about to go off to school, with a new haircut and, presumably, a new outlook on life, and Isiah suddenly appears. We leave them, there on the Harlem subway station, as she prepares to go off to college "up north" and their hot, turbulent summer affair may have future roots, or it may not.

    What is most memorable about Premature is the power and confidence of those early scenes between Ayanna and Isiah, their intense sensuality, and the vernacular flavor of all the talk of the Harlem people in Ayanna's life that continues to go on while the romance is going on.

    There's a wealth of talent here. But the pleasure of Premature is marred at various points by gaps in the story and stretches in the casting.

    Premature, 90 min., debuted Jan. 2019 at Sundance, where it was workshopped. It showed at 19 other festivals, all of them domestic US ones except London and Cork. Released in the UK in Jan. 2020 (internet) and in the US Feb. 2020 (internet). Screened for this review during a theatrical run at IFC Center, New York, Feb. 27, 2020. Metascore: 81%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-28-2020 at 03:14 PM.


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