THE STORY – A young boy joins a dirt bike gang in Baltimore.
THE CAST – Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Meek Mill, Will Catlett & Teyonah Parris
THE TEAM – Angel Manuel Soto (Director) & Sherman Payne (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 125 Minutes
By Kaiya Shunyata
To say Black people deserve more coming-of-age stories is an understatement. There’s been a sort of rallying cry for more of these films since the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag went viral five years ago, and unfortunately, not a lot has changed. Films like “Moonlight” and “We The Animals” have been released, but those films cannot film the void by themselves. Thankfully, there’s a new film to add to the Black coming-of-age cannon: Ángel Manuel Soto’s “Charm City Kings.”
The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival back in January and is based on the documentary “12 O’Clock Boys.” The film focuses on Mouse (a charming Jahi Di’Allo Winston), a 14-year-old hypnotized by the glamour of The Midnight Clique, an infamous Baltimore dirt bike group. While his mother (a phenomenal Teyonah Parris) tries to make sure Mouse is working for the local animal clinic, her will alone can’t stop him from dreaming of something more. When the leader of The Midnight Clique, Blax (Meek Mill), takes Mouse under his wing, he begins to build a bike of his own, slowly achieving what he’s always dreamed of. But, when two of Mouse’s friends also become involved, the three boys realize that this life they sought after may not be as perfect as they thought.
While the film does address heavy topics, it never feels exploitive like some Black films do. There are no harrowing monologues, no lingering shots of dead Black bodies, and the topics of police and gang violence are handled gently. Characters reel from certain actions, but we never see them weep up at the sky, arms upturned. The characters also feel lived in; authentic dialogue allowing Mouse and his friends to feel like real kids you would hear joking in front of a corner store. The city shines through as well, and the love these characters have for it is ever-present. There’s a particular scene during a bike race where the camera pans to real people watching the race along with the actors. Allowing real people to participate and engage in this culture makes the story feel all the more real.
Jahi Di’Allo Winston is fantastic as Mouse. He perfectly embodies this 14-year-old trying to find his place in the world. He has a charisma that often falls flat for young actors like himself, and there’s no doubt he’ll have a long career after this. Along with Winston is Teyonah Parris who plays Mouse’s mother. While she’s not a main character by any means, every second she’s on-screen she’s completely captivating. During a fight with Mouse, Parris’s yells are terrifying, perfectly encapsulating the pain a parent goes through when their child is unknowingly putting themselves at risk. The revelation of the film, though, is Meek Mill. While he only has one other acting credit to his name, Mill feels nothing like a rookie. His eyes translate emotions more than some who’ve been in the game for years, and he plays Blax with an intriguing hesitancy. Each of these players adds authenticity to the film, all the while making it look effortless.
“Charm City Kings” is a great coming-of-age film about a teen trying to find his place in a world that doesn’t want to stop for him. Mouse’s journey is filled with heartbreak and life lessons, and while some audiences may see it as far-fetched, his story isn’t that uncommon. Although the film lags in the middle section, it makes up for it with its fast-paced climax and a solid ending. Ángel Manuel Soto is a fantastic director, allowing his cast to amplify a script that frankly gets old too fast. This joint effort results in something special and promises a long career for everyone involved.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Stellar performances elevate the film and allow you to get sucked into it. Some engaging camera work is also utilized during chase sequences.
THE BAD – The film lags a bit in the middle, and it could have been cut down 20 minutes or so.
THE OSCARS – None