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Release Date: 05/26/24 [Cinemas]
Genre: Drama.

Studio: Sony Pictures Classics. 

"Two young boys, best friends Malik and Eric, discover the joys and hardships of growing up in the sprawling Cabrini-Green public housing complex in 1992 Chicago." 


It’s Chicago, 1992. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen rule the world. But, in their city, there are thousands upon thousands of less fortunate who struggle to get by. 


Malik (Blake Cameron James) and Eric (Gian Knight Ramirez) are schoolchildren who live in Cabrini-Green, a public housing complex built during World War II that became largely black housing by the 1960s and, at its peak, held 15,000 people in its cramped quarters.


The two boys have been best friends since birth. On weekends they round up old mattresses and make a game of seeing who can run and jump the farthest because, in that singular moment in midair, it feels like flying. 


Both struggle in school and both come home to meager meals and frustrated parents, scraping to get by like everyone else around them. But, still, they dream. 


One day, Malik and Eric skip school to go to the Art Institute of Chicago, where they lovingly gawk at works by Georges Seurat, Gustave Caillebotte, and Walter Ellison. Later, they people-watch at Union Station, making an adventure out of the ordinary and the mundane, before going home to a pair of nervous, worrying single parents. 


Malik and Eric do what so many kids do with poverty. They jump higher than anyone else on earth. They tell bad jokes. They see stars in cracks on the ceiling. They laugh and they play, and they pretend they are anywhere else. “Don’t you forget us, I exist!” they yell into the void in one scene. 


After a 7-year-old is shot, Cabrini-Green goes on lockdown, and everyone is required to carry ID cards to get in and out. The tone abruptly changes and there is a terrible weight that comes with children being robbed of their innocence. After Malik and Eric attend the funeral of their classmate, the two boys consider that maybe this is all there is. That, when you die, you just cease to exist. It’s a shattering moment.


In the next scene, police raid their apartment complex at 2 a.m., tearing every room apart looking for drugs. Frustrated and scared, Malik and Eric call out to each other from separate floors, rattling the chain-link fence and once again shouting, “we exist!” 


They do exist. And we, the audience, are lucky that films like this exist, that actors like this exist, and that filmmakers like this exist. 


In We Grown Now, writer and director Minhal Baig puts on a masterclass in filmmaking. At times, she evokes Charlie Kaufman or Michel Gondry as the camerawork becomes playful and intimate and ever-so-slightly surreal. Other times, the camera is weary or heavy or tired. Always, it’s moving, and dancing with the symphonic score by Jay Wadley. Every frame is shot with such care and affection. 


She also gets incredible performances from her two young leads, who are so natural that it becomes easy to forget this is fiction and not documentary. James is soulful and quietly deep, while Ramirez flashes raw anger as the one who gets left behind as things shift – the one who is abandoned by circumstance. 


Jurnee Smollet as Malik’s mother Dolores is also heartbreakingly good. The quiet strength she shows is both gut-wrenching and wonderful, but her delivery also tells us that she’s just trying to keep it together, to make the world seem normal so her kids can have a semblance of a normal life. It’s an incredible, understated performance. 


We Grown Now is a masterful story about where you’re from, and where you’re going.


This is a deeply American film about a place and time in American history that was difficult and painful, and that still happens today and is far, far too commonplace. Maybe this will help by holding up a mirror, by helping someone else feel like they’re not alone.


This movie has so much power. It bursts with life and poetry. It has power in its stillness and its use of light and color. It has power in its performances and music – and in its painful relatability. It’s a film about harsh realities, and big and small dreams. And, like its two leads, it has an enormous, beautiful beating heart.

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