This movie is extremely important in what it talks about, but that doesn’t always mean it’s a good movie, or that is succeeds in what it’s trying to do. So let’s dive in and see if this movie manages to hit all the right notes.
Starr Carter (Amanda Stenberg) is living dual lives. At home, she lives in a predominantly black neighborhood and feels comfortable being herself, as opposed to when she goes to a nice private school where she has to pretend to be “Starr 2.0.” At home, her parents (Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby) try to teach her about safety out in the world, but that doesn’t stop tragedy from striking. Starr is riding with her friend Khalil (Algee Smith) when he is shot by a white police officer. What ensues is a battle between her speaking up for the victims or laying low and maintaining the status quo in her small town. We also have Common starring as her uncle, who also happens to be a police officer, and Issa Rae (Insecure) as a lawyer who wants Starr to speak loudly about what happened. Anthony Mackie also stars as the local drug dealer who wants Starr to stay silent. We also have Starr’s white best friend (Sabrina Carpenter) and white boyfriend (K.J. Apa, Riverdale).
This is an important topic. We’ve seen situations exactly like the one outlined in this movie happen in real life, so it’s a potentially great way to talk to kids and teenagers about these tragedies, especially as a way to show non-people of color why these tragedies are part of something larger. As an educational tool, this is going to be very valuable.
Some of the performances deserve recognition as well. The standouts for me included the two parents, played by Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby. They showed two sides of the coin on how you might want your children to act in this situation, while both caring for their daughter. They play well off each other, though the tension between them (as their daughter chooses what route to go) is incredibly realistic.
Like I said, as an educational tool, this movie will be valuable. As a film, I think it hits some major problems.
Many of the performances don’t feel authentic, instead veering towards high-drama CW-style dialogue. The biggest problems are K.J. Apa (who comes from the high-drama world of Riverdale) and Sabrina Carpenter, who was a Disney channel star and singer. These are also the two most prominent white characters in the movie, who get their fair share of “Why is this such a big deal?” dialogue that is naturally a little more dramatic.
And I’m on the fence about the lead, Amanda Stenberg. I wasn’t put off by her performance at all, but it didn’t induce the sort of intensity that this movie deserved. I didn’t cry, which is a problem. I cry during commercials and yet somehow this movie didn’t punch me in the stomach the way that it should have and I feel like most of that should have come from her performance.
As a film, this falls short. It’s a valuable story and there’s some great parts about it, but when you leave the theater, it doesn’t have the sort of impact you’d expect. I got more chills from the final five minutes of BlacKkKlansman than I did in this entire movie. Maybe rent and watch with your family, I don’t know if it should be your top pick for full price at the theaters.