Sweetness O’Hara (Zoë Kravitz) knows something has to change. The inner-city 17-year-old has just seen her mentally ill mother Lorene (Yolanda Ross) walk out the door and her abusive father Gordon (Jason Clarke) present a nonplussed attitude toward that fact. At school, she is besieged by Latonya Williams (Gabourey Sidibe) and her gang of toughs at every turn, while her only so-called role model is her struggling, and extremely pregnant, older sister Ola (Antonique Smith), and as much as she loves her Sweetness can tell those are footsteps she certainly does not want to follow.
I seriously want to like Yelling to the Sky far more than I actually do. The directorial debut for Victoria Mahoney (who also wrote the screenplay), the movie presents a story I feel does deserve to be told, constructing a central character in Sweetness easier to identify and relate to no matter what one’s skin color or ethnicity than you might initially think. Her travails are heart-stopping, dramatic and, most of all, immediate, and it’s impossible to imagine anyone taking a look at the movie won’t be pulling for her to escape and achieve a better right from the start.
Problem is Mahoney never fleshes out things in a way that resonates all the way to the core, the emotional truths she’s searching for oftentimes drowning in a stew of melodramatic tedium difficult to get past. In many ways I couldn’t help but feel like I’d seen versions of this story numerous times before (comparisons to Precious are sadly inevitable), and very rarely does the material rise above to become something memorable.
All the same, the acting is universally strong (for those who felt Clarke was robbed of a Supporting Actor nom for Zero Dark Thirty here’s more proof as to just how great and multifaceted an actor he truly is), supporting players like Sidibe and Tim Blake Nelson (portraying a school counselor who attempts to steer Sweetness in what he thinks is the right direction) giving notable performances worthy of applause. More than that, young Kravitz is downright wonderful in the lead role, anchoring the film in a way that gives it momentum and meaning making it highly doubtful I’d have enjoyed the picture at all had she not been a part of the proceedings.
Mahoney has talent, that goes without saying. She gives Yelling to the Sky an austere, relatively refined visual milieu that’s refreshing, trying her best not to be too showy and allowing the inherent dramatics of her tail speak for themselves. If only her script had been just as detailed and refined, fleshed out more than it sadly is, then we’d have something special to be talking about. As it is, Yelling to the Sky is an interesting, strongly acted yet emotionally muted conundrum I’m happy I watched yet not exactly excited to recommend to others to do the same.
Yelling to the Sky is presented on a single-layer 25GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 2.40:1 1080p transfer.
This Blu-ray features an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack and includes optional English SDH subtitles.
Extras here include:
· Interview with writer/director Victoria Mahoney
· “Yelling Graffiti” Featurette
· Original Theatrical Trailer
It’s on okay assortment, nothing more, the interview pieces with Mahoney obviously offering up the most worthwhile material. All-in-all, not a lot to talk about, but considering how disappointingly the movie itself underperforms this is probably a good thing.
Yelling to the Sky has its heart in the right place and tells a story that probably needed to be given a voice, but the didactic nature of so much of the narrative and the heavy-handed nature of the melodrama undermines a potentially powerful work, leaving a wonderfully three-dimensional and moving performance by relative newcomer Kravitz sadly hanging in the wind. Maybe worthy of a rental but I seriously doubt anything more.