WE GROWN NOW – Review by Sherin Nicole

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In a time known as 1990s Chicago; in a place called Cabrini-Green, a pair of peach-colored curtains, imprinted with a mosaic pattern, undulate in the wind.

“This is where we’re from.”

The curtains, as a pair, seem as inseparable as our young friends Malik (Blake Cameron James) and Eric (Gian Knight Ramirez). But no pair is immune from being swept apart. This is the story of We Grown Now — of a friendship as strong as kin. Two boys and their families are caught in the crossfires of crimes born of scarcity and America’s wars on crime, drugs, anything… Like so many innocent poor people before and after. But We Grown Now is also a poetic reminiscence on the community that once infused America’s most iconic housing project, the great migration from Mississippi to Chicago, and love in its many mercurial forms.

“Not much to see.” “We were born here, live here, and die here.”

After skipping school to visit an art museum with Eric, Malik sees a series of paintings that change the shape of his world. He begins to dream of trains that transport him to somewhere else. His mother (Jurnee Smollett) has a different dream, but she is slow to let go of the home her parents built and the connections they’ve forged in Cabrini-Green. Her mother (S. Epatha Merkerson) is their memory keeper and forms a bridge between her daughter’s and her grandson’s dreams. Eric’s family is more practical. His widower father (Lil Rel Howery) teaches his children the daily lessons of maneuvering life, his sister (Avery Holliday) is the first to go to college, and Eric’s imagination transforms his surroundings.

“You can dream.”

The contrast between Malik, who dreams, and Eric, who doesn’t believe in dreams but instead prays and uses his imagination, is key. Their differences and connectivity are what bond the boys as brothers and make We Grown Now crushing yet undeniably lovely. When Malik’s mother receives an opportunity, we watch the boys depart from one another, while we struggle as much as they do. Still, there is hope that their separation might inspire Eric to combine his faith with a dream of his own. I don’t know whether to be angry at writer/director Minhal Baig for crushing my heart or to hug her for gifting us with these characters. I only know I ache after seeing her gorgeous elegy of childhood.

“Can we pray together?” “And grant that we may mend all that is broken.”

The soft ripples of those curtains seem to beckon Malik, like a portal into the possibility of a safe place to grow. We want the same for Eric. This is ultimately what broke me: an inseparable pair saying goodbye without any inkling if they will meet again. May all the children who pray, imagine, or dream of something better be granted fulfillment.

“Don’t be afraid to fly”

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Sherin Nicole

Sherin Nicole writes about film and produces content for geeks and nerds alike on Geek Girl Riot.