We Grown Now

We Grown Now

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Minhal Baig’s “We Grown Now” is a film perfectly in tune with the emotional power of place. Set in Cabrini-Green in the early ’90s, it is as Chicagoan as its characters whom it has affection for from the beginning to the end. Malik (Blake Cameron James) and Eric (Gian Knight Ramirez) are two young boys who have been friends since they were babies, growing up at Chicago’s legendary housing project known as Cabrini-Green. They lead normal but nostalgic lives like many children; going to school, having dinner with their families, and playing together by cracking jokes and stacking home mattresses and jumping on them. It is this simple down-to-earth behavior towards childhood that makes “We Grown Now” touchingly cute and further deepens the plot.

A child dies amidst criminal activities at Cabrini-Green when tragedy strikes there, which leaves Malik and Eric to face inevitable physical and psychological aftereffects. Thus, the wordings of the title “We Grown Now” do not merely depict stages of life but mourn lost innocence instead. This work shows what it feels like to be black through the eyes of children, who due to sociopolitical reasons regarding race or class must deal with adult problems earlier than their white counterparts do. This portrait captures that special beauty about youthfulness while simultaneously focusing on fragility of these fundamental ingredients of raising a human being.

Nonetheless, “We Grown Now” does not descend into excessive sweetness or pity. It carries streaks of sunshine combined with close attention to mundane incidents involving children. With location employed at every possible scale ranging from broad city views across Chicago to tiny photographs hanging on cement walls inside corridors Baig’s direction will play music out of your heart at every twist. Stylized images arise such as black girls hula hooping on asphalt streets during summer evenings, shots showing balls bouncing against brick walls during bored moments and sun-drenched toilet encounters (when you should be in class) at school. 

The geographic center of the film is Cabrini-Green, one of Chicago’s many infamous public housing projects and probably invokes dangerous, decaying hallways covered in graffiti and forlorn streets in “Candyman,” a film from the same year that “We Grown Now” takes place. These are very different movies, but each worthy on its own account; their portrayals are however, poles apart when it comes to reputation versus reality. However, Baig’s movie does not avoid an ugly side of this place. It also allows us to know everything about him via such poignant biographies as his life with Malik and Eric: a history with both the losses caused by crimes and games plus simplicity of leading a happy life overall. Nevertheless, alongside some overemotional string-heavy score by Jay Wadley and few heavy-handed lines here or there, “We Grown Now” is mostly grounded in authenticity.

The changing of low-set cameras that are used to look from the view of young people, high-angle shots which show short distance and well-focused attention on small things maintain the childlike fancy and amazement. In this movie, these recurring techniques are practiced with romanticism during highs and tinged with sadness in lows, thus keeping the boys’ viewpoints unswerving. 

Even though James plays Malik more like a main character than Ramirez does as James, they still make a great duo at the heart of this film. Between cutting class and playing innocent dozens-in-love scenes while discussing love life naïvely charming or rather sailing through their first disdainfully encroaching socio-political awareness; their chemistry feels like real best friends who eventually have to deal with complex emotions together. As Eric’s father, Lil Rel Howery exhibits a range of emotions rarely expected from his usual funny roles. Jurnee Smollett’s character serves as an exposition for adult themes in the film about Malik’s mother. However, both parents’ images bring structure to the picture as well as give it shades of tenderness making “We Grown Now” undeniably captivating but belonging to the boys alone.

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