Synopsis: Seventeen year old Ayanna meets handsome and mysterious Isaiah in her path towards self-discovery. Her entire world is turned upside down as she travails on the rigorous terrain of young love on the summer before she leaves for college.
Stars: Zora Howard, Joshua Boone, Michelle Wilson, Alexis Marie Wint, Imani Lewis, Tashiana Washington, Myha’la Herrold
Director: Rashaad Ernesto Green
Running Length: 86 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: Seeing movies at film festivals is, honestly, often a crapshoot. Though the movies have been curated by a supposedly sensible staff there are times when you find yourself watching a selection and wondering how on earth the committee thought a crowd would respond to this title. Thankfully, the group behind the Twin Cities Film Festival have an exceedingly good feel not just for what will appeal to their festivalgoers but also what filmmakers/actors/projects could be the next buzzy project. It’s these films that are often selected to either open the festival or be the closing night title, so I always tend to pay close attention to what gets those coveted slots.
At the 11-day event this past year, Premature snagged that closing night position so I made sure to get it on my schedule and I was glad I did because it lived up to the hype. Catching a movie so early in its festival run can be difficult because it can fade from memory when it finds a wide-release date but that wasn’t the case here. Now, seven months later it’s finally debuting on the streaming service Hulu after winning a number of awards, including Film Independent’s Someone to Watch Award for director Rashaad Ernesto Green back in February.
When Ayanna (Zora Howard) meets Isaiah (Joshua Boone) during one hot summer in her Harlem, NY neighborhood, she isn’t looking for any kind of a relationship. She’s on her way to college in the fall and is tentative about getting involved with the older man, charming though he may be. Her poetry and journaling is her method of expression and she pours her feelings into lines that hold great power. When she inevitably finds herself moving forward with Isaiah, her life changes in ways she never expected and emotions of both pleasure and pain factor into her thoughts on building a future with him.
Co-written by Green and star Howard, this is a sensitive drama involving young love that doesn’t follow the typical trajectory we’re all used to seeing. Bucking most conventions of the romance genre, it gives voice to the black community in current, vibrant ways and you can feel its energy pulsating off screen from beginning to end. It’s a frank film, in language and sexuality, yes, but also in honesty of emotion and all feel entirely earned and justified. Simple resolutions don’t exist in Ayanna and Isaiah’s world and I appreciated seeing the world from that vantage point.
The script is one thing but the performances are what elevate Premature to that next level. Green has assembled a hell of a fine cast, from bit players to supporting actors playing Ayanna’s pseudo Greek chorus girlfriends. Though made on a tiny budget you get the feeling all of these people have known each other for years and Green just made a few phone calls to get them all together to shoot. Boone and Howard have a fiery chemistry that is so very rare to see and Boone makes what could be a problematic character less so with his gentle approach. The movie belongs to Howard, though, and not just because she’s written an especially strong female lead for herself. Ayanna’s imperfections is what makes her so understandable and whether she’s struggling with communicating with her mother (a strong Michelle Wilson) or reacting to a perceived slight from Isaiah, we understand her frustration more than we are aware. It’s a bold, brave, memorable turn.
Premature was always going to be a tough sell even without the quarantine and pandemic to quiet it’s already small release in theaters. Now that it’s going straight to streaming on Hulu there’s a chance more people will discover it early but it’s a true gem that you should get on the bandwagon early for. It falls into the same step with If Beale Street Could Talk with presenting straightforward black relationships without resorting to cloying clichés. That should be celebrated and encouraged.