Two young boys look out at a lilac sky behind the cityscape through a chainlink fence.

Film Review: We Grown Now

Film Reviews

We Grown Now
Director: Minhal Baig

Stage 6 Films and Participant Media
In Theaters 04.26

The moments in life that stay with us forever and shape us into who we will be are wide ranging, and they can be big or small. A perfect day spent with a friend, times of terror and grief, or turning points where we find strength within ourselves. We Grown Now is a beautiful and deeply effecting collection of these moments.

In 1992, two boys named Malik (Blake Cameron James, Found, The Sound of Christmas) and Eric (newcomer Gian Knight Ramirez) live in Chicago in the Cabrini-Green public housing project. The inseparable duo spends their nights pondering the vastness of the universe and world around them, and their days running around town, performing junior daredevil jumps onto a mattress and getting into other mischief. The boys’ aspirations and dreams reach to the stars, but they are dragged down to earth when 7-year old Dantrell Davis, a boy in their neighborhood, is killed by a bullet meant for a gang member. As the neighborhood is shaken by this devastating tragedy, the boys parents are concerned by their fearlessness and risk taking, and Malik and Eric struggle to hold on to their innocence and adventurous spirit, and to each other.

We Grown Now is a mesmerizing portrait of childhood in the inner city, set against the backdrop of a horrifying real life shooting that that shook Chicago and received national attention. Writer-director Minhal Baig (1 Night, Hala) grew up in Chicago, and she beautifully captures the the bleakness and squalor of urban poverty mixed with the wonder of a city seen through the eyes of a child, as well as the deep rooted love of one’s home. The harshness of the real world is mixed with surreal, soft focus sequences of adventure and imagination, and the masterful cinematography by Pat Scola (Pig) is gorgeous and transportive, whether it’s capturing the majesty of the highrises or the Metropolitan Art Museum, or the shadows of a train through shining through the city lights into Malik’s windows at night and heightened by his own fantastical mind’s eye. We Grown Now is a character driven film that is made up of a series of vignettes that range from playful sequences that blur the line between reality and fantasy, as well as sobering evebts that include Malik’s family apartment being mistakenly ransacked by police in the middle of the night. Through it all, Baig’s assured direction maintains a fluidity in storytelling and a strong sense of pacing. 

The acting is superb, with the young leads turning in performances that are simply enchanting. James is a magnetic presence, with a skill and maturity that is far beyond his years, and Malik is arguably the most fully developed and relatable protagonist in any film released so far this year. Ramirez is the less polished of the two young actors, though he bring a natural charm and a surprisingly deep, even brooding sensibility to his characterization. Jurnee Smollett (Birds of Prey, The Burial) is captivating and sympathetic as Malik’s loving and harried mother, Dolores, who is determined to provide her children with the best life that she can, and S. Epatha Merkerson (Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Lincoln) is marvelous as Anita, Malik’s supportive grandmother. Lil Rel Howery (Get Out, Free Guy) is memorable in a small supporting role as Jason, Eric’s overwhelmed single father. While the character is given limited screen time, the understated performance is remarkablely effective. 

We Grown Now is a spellbinding achievement  that is alternately heartbreaking and life affirming, an unforgettable mixture of ugliness and beauty that pierces the soul. It serves as a time capsule, capturing both the now demolished Cabrini-Green project and the formative years of a young person’s life with loving sensitivity. It’s an artful and evocative cinematic experience that will stay with you long after the credits roll and the lights come up. – Patrick Gibbs

Read More of Patrick’s Recent Film Writing:
The Idea of You
The Fall Guy