Monday, October 7, 2013
Review: THE INEVITABLE DEFEAT OF MISTER AND PETE Is An Inspiring Coming Of Age Drama With Two Star-Making Performances
"Mister, do you think it's bad to not love your mother?" This innocent question is asked by young Pete (Ethan Dizon), a stranded young boy plucked from a hopeless situation at home by Mister (Skylan Brooks), a boy not much older than him in a similarly dire circumstance in THE INEVITABLE DEFEAT OF MISTER AND PETE.
Don't be turned away by its title's dejected tone; the film is not the heavy downtrodden meme we see too often in today's cinema featuring young minority characters. Directed by Soul Food's George Tillman Jr. and co-executive produced by singer Alicia Keys, the movie champions its two boys throughout each challenge they face, and even lightens the drama at the right time with genuine comedy relief. But 13-year-old Mister is in a constant state of frustration that usually takes years for most of us to acquire. His mother, Gloria (a remarkable Jennifer Hudson), is a drug-addicted prostitute, which leaves her unable to take on any responsible parental duties. So Mister is usually the only one making sure there is at least bread and ketchup in the refrigerator and that the lights stay on in their Brooklyn projects apartment. With all his adult burdens, his grades plummet. Needless to say, when he tries to pay for necessities with his mother's EBT card, he is often met with skeptical and even threatening glares. No, things aren't ideal for Mister. Even his guardian angel (played by Jordin Sparks) in plain clothes is unreliable.
Things become even more critical when 9-year-old Pete enters the picture. There's no explanation why he all of a sudden begins living with Mister and Gloria (we can assume from one particular scene later in the movie that his mother may have been worse off than Mister's), but he becomes Mister's responsibility (someone he grows to accept). After Gloria is rendered completely useless, Mister finds an unlikely friendship with Pete. Together, Mister hopes that during this one hot summer they can rise above their circumstances by grasping for a few food items by any means, dodging street thugs and child services that want to collect them.
THE INEVITABLE DEFEAT OF MISTER AND PETE doesn't rely on the elaborate devices we see in too often in coming of age films. It's an authentic portrayal of life through the eyes of a 13-year-old who's never had much, but always knew he was destined for more. The thing that drives him most isn't only his newfound dependent and confidante, but the fact that in August he will audition for the role of a lifetime, an opportunity that he is convinced will rescue him from his situation. First-time feature writer Michael Starrbury eschews the stereotypes of hoop dreams and rap careers by making its young hero an aspiring actor. He may not be the best caretaker, the best student and maybe not even the best son, but he becomes a great friend and shows that underneath he's also an impressive artist with a dream.
While the themes of the film certainly transcend geography and age, the inclusion of multicultural characters further help make the film universal. Once again, Tillman directs powerful performances from his actors, led by Brooks and Dizon who both authenticated their characters with impressive passion. Despite the fact that they come from two different families and are two separate ages, they cling to each other both out of desperation and friendship. Brooks especially delivers a truthful portrayal that allows Mister to be both strong and scared. Jeffrey Wright and Anthony Mackie also illuminate their determination as a veteran homeless man and neighborhood street thug, respectively.
A touching and honest tale about the loss of innocence and the achievement of friendship, THE INEVITABLE DEFEAT OF MISTER AND PETE will hopefully usher in a new wave of coming of age tales that inspire and redefine expectations.
THE INEVITABLE DEFEAT OF MISTER AND PETE opens in select theaters this Friday.