This independent film was photographed in my hometown of Philadelphia, which was what sparked my interest. Typically, I wouldn't go with or enjoy a film like this. It doesn't have your typical story structure. There's no real narrative. It's basically a group of random scenes in the lives of a handful of poor people in the city.
It culminates in a march down Market Street. The march is part of a campaign. The campaign is for poor people's economic human rights. While young, writer-director Mark Webber is trying to make the political point that we need to do more to end poverty, this is not a political film. Its purpose is merely to be provocative.
Webber wants his audience to identify with his selection of poor, to show that they are actually people, normal people. Some struggle. Some succeed. Some make bad choices. Some have bad choices thrust upon them.
It's a tableau. You never really get the message Webber wants to make until the very end where a dreadful and devastating incident quietly hits his select citizens.
I was ready to dismiss the movie as a trifle until that moment. It was almost parallel to Eastwood's surprise in Million Dollar Baby (2004). I was ready to dismiss that movie until two-thirds through it when Eastwood drastically changed the course of the film. The moment here doesn't change the course, but it seriously punctuates Webber's point.
Along the way, Webber shows us murals, the paintings of which offer us snapshots into his characters. Of the various snapshots, some grabbed me. Some didn't. There is no central character. Most get equal time.
At the opening, Webber begins by following two young boys, walking about their impoverished environment. If any characters were pivotal, it would be these two. One boy who is quite young goes by the name Babo. The other who is more of a horny teenager is Demetri. They could not be more opposite.
Demetri is a player, which is urban slang for a guy who is slick at manipulating and seducing women. One woman, a young, smart, teen girl who lives in his neighborhood, is the exception. She will not be "played" by him. It doesn't stop Demetri from trying and where it leads him is somewhere he might not have thought, and to become someone who the audience might not have thought.
Whereas Demetri, who is obsessed with bodybuilding despite being a stick figure, is a total bully, Babo is a little geek and is the one who's usually getting picked on. Babo's mom is played by Rosario Dawson (Rent and Sin City). She's barely making ends meet. She doesn't have enough to pay for medicine when Babo gets sick. To help, Babo does odd jobs like picking up dog droppings.
We also follow a 20-something boy riding his bicycle who we immediately discover is a drug dealer, specializing in marijuana but other things as well. Jacob, played by Lou Taylor Pucci, himself seems to walk around in a drug haze. The question arises why does he do it. Is it because no other opportunities are afforded him? Is it to dull the pain of poverty?
We see not everyone succumbs to crime or the trappings of low-income life. Some rise above. Tariq Trotter, the lead singer of the rap group The Roots, plays Kaleef, a husband and father who's starting his own business. He has a nice home. He and his wife have a loving relationship. They talk to their son openly and instill in him good values.
Either they're living in a well-insulated bubble or it's a glimmer of hope in an otherwise desperate situation. Yet, a lot of what this movie is are rays of sunshine peaking through darkness, flowers growing out of cracks in the sidewalk, a mural painting on a dilapidated wall, diamonds in the rough, or at least the sparkles of such.
Four Stars out of Five
Rated R for language and some drug use
Running Time: 1 hr. and 27 mins.