Going into this film I wasn’t sure what to expect. Although I was excited by its critical acclaim, the fan response was very mediocre; which again left me wondering where I would stand between the two sides. Despite really wanting to be hopeful, and enthused by the trailer which seemed to suggest the film had a number of moving messages; it did seem a little bit cheesy (not least with the main protagonist being called Starr.) Nevertheless, on a quiet weekend for film at my cinema I went in hoping for the best.
What is it about?
Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg,) is a sixteen year old girl from Garden Heights; a poor, majority black, community, where crime is rife and integrated at the heart of the society. Therefore, she is put into a white prep school to help her stay safe and break the menacingly unwavering Garden Heights cycle: join a gang or struggle in poverty. With her personality fundamentally split between the two communities she doesn’t know who she really is. But when her best friend Khalil (Algee Smith) is violently killed by a cop, and she is the sole witness; she is forced to confront who she really is and speak out against the brutality.
What did I think?
I thought this film was excellent and it has been quite a little while, right back to ‘A Star is Born’, since I have felt this way about a film. First of all, the characters were not cheesy, as I had initially suspected, and although in the film’s early stages some characters I didn’t like were introduced, notably Chris (played by K.J. Apa) and Hailey (p.b. Sabrina Carpenter;) the strength of the other characters more than made up for it. The formerly mentioned Amandla Stenberg steals the show and brings real power to Starr who is caught between two worlds and just wants to do what is right for those she loves. I felt her ongoing struggle was painfully realised and allowed me to empathise with her and those around her; as I channeled the relentless emotion she exuded. Moreover, because the ensemble surrounding her was so incredible it really helped to develop texture and a gritty basis for the setting of the film. Particularly I liked: Maverick Carter (who resembled a troubled father figure who only truly wanted what was best for his family) and King (the drug kingpin adverse to Starr speaking out as a witness to Khalil’s murder.) Although this film is based on a work of fiction the themes within it felt very real and current. As a result, at no point throughout the narrative did I feel bored; as every section felt pivotal to the advancement of the plot, (which surprised me especially as the film was 135 minutes long.) Finally, the film’s ending was very strong and left you thinking about the issues the film raised seriously while out of the cinema.
Nevertheless, there were some parts of the film that I didn’t like. Right at the start of the film the use of cringe humour, especially within the school- the first time we as an audience visit, was used unnecessarily. Fortunately, as it was so early on, and was not used again very frequently, I was allowed to easily forget and move on with the more serious aspects of the narrative. As previously mentioned, amongst my positives section; Hailey and Chris were two characters I initially had problems with; however, while the reasoning for this became justified on Hailey’s part, it never did for Chris. Although his actions suggested he should be a character I liked; he came across as slightly conceited and arrogant, which always left my feelings towards him marred. Rather differently, I thought that after such elaborate, exceptional build up, more could have been made of the climax in the street protest scene. This was a key point the film was ultimately driving towards and it came and went very quickly and the message felt quite unsatisfactorily delivered. However, the fact I went on to thoroughly enjoy scenes directly following this, suggests it’s effect on my overall viewing experience was minor.
My Rating: 8/10
I really enjoyed this film and felt the messages resounded with me and felt important in our current social climate. I would suggest this to everybody and although it may be too late for some now, as it is coming out of cinemas, I would definitely suggest people to pick it up on DVD when it is released. Although it had its flaws, it was totally engrossing and it has been quite a while since I have lost myself in a film like with this. So the answer to what side I am on is definitely with the positive critics.
P.S. Although this sounds kind of random: for all of the exceptional films I have seen recently, my thoughts have become overrun by maths and maths formulas. I don’t know why this happens but it does and it only ever comes about with films I ultimately rate 8+/10 (most recently before ‘The Hate U Give’ it was with ‘A Star is Born’.