Housekeeping first. >>>
I was fortunate enough to see this film gratis because I am a “community partner” with the #MFAH Films. Please note that I consider my admission as remuneration, however such remuneration does not affect my view of this film. Please note that the opinions expressed in this review are mine and mine alone, they are not biased or cloud by my community partnership status with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Oh and there are some spoilers. Sorry, not sorry. Go see the movie. >> Read on good people – read on…
“Life & Nothing More” was actually a fiction offering. Yet, it felt like a documentary about Black American life. By god, did it seem real.
Originally, I was skeptical. I thought to myself how could the director, Antonio Mendez Esparza capture Black American life on film, yet not be rooted in the experience. … but it is fiction, it is neorealism. As a cinephile, I have to contain my sociopolitical self from ruining a good artistic experience because I overthink the “why” of the director when I don’t truly know why. (Overthinking is kinda my thing… get used to it.)
I digress. (as always….)
So, Antonio Mendez Esparza does neorealism very well. I’m a huge fan of Italian neorealism. There is an immediate intrinsic connection you can make with such films because if you are working class because you understand the moral condition, injustice and everyday life that is on display. Esparza and his talent cast of non-professional actors did not disappoint.
We were all 14 going on 15 at some point in our lives. It is a scary, unsure, confusing time. You think you know the world, but you don’t. You need your parents more than ever, but you want to foster your own identity and independence. Environment and external influences overshadow the wise words of your parents. We have all been there and for Black American teens it is even more perilous because you are strangulated by poverty, racism and lack of resources. This is what we find in this film. How do you come of age in poverty? What’s out there for you in the future, if there is nothing there for you in the present? F*** me. I’ve so been there, I guess my parents did a great job of making sure I knew the future was always greater than the present if I got a great education. So when you are watching this film… all your judgments that were ever directed towards you as a kid and a teen kick into high gear. As a Black American, I was triggered into thinking about the bad decisions of my youth and scared for the future decisions of my Heir Apparent.
It was at that point, I knew that this film was doing what it was designed to do — pull you into the very fabric of the lives of the characters and demand your emotional investment.
Watching the film as a Black American parent, I wondered if the white people in the audience saw the main character as just a child or if they even saw him as human. I saw him as a child who needed his Mother more than ever, he was on the cusp of ruining his life due to there not being a stable enough support system to help him thrive. I saw him a a child you needed love and due care. I saw him as human because I saw myself as a teen within this character.
I saw the Mother how I see most Black American Mothers – as part martyr, part Superwoman, part culmination of any / all bad decisions and part me. You do the best you can with the resources you have at the time you have them with the best decision because you don’t know what you don’t damn know. That’s Black American motherhood. Bar none.
I wept for her. I wanted to see her win because if she wins, her son wins. I wanted to see all the characters win. … but that’s not how life goes. It never goes like that. The good guys, the underdog, the Black family – sometimes, often times, more so than not — we don’t ever win. And it is a whole mindf***. Completely.
The main cast in this movie was so talented and so beautiful. They brought an almost mystical aura to the main character. Their emotions were so palatable. This movie had a beautiful darkness to it. Whether it was the sad blue hues weaved in and out of the movie or the close ups on their dark, rich, intoxicating beautiful Black skin. There was something pulling to this film, even in the most tense of moments I could not look away. I felt so connected and entrenched in the story.
“Life & Nothing More” was a great encapsulation of Black American life, the ease in which Black Americans slide into the American judicial system, the difficulties of single Black motherhood, the difficulties of cultivating your humanity or trying to engage in loving relationships whilst shouldering the burden of Black American life.
And the most powerful thread of this film was the bond between the Mother and her son, for she loved him as best as she knew how – as best as she could and that was a beautiful thing because Black American boys deserve love, they deserve grace and they deserve kindness.
Life and Nothing More
2017 ‧ Drama ‧ 1h 54m
Stressed by her job at a diner, single mother Regina struggles to raise her two children in northern Florida. When her 14-year-old son has another brush with the law, Regina starts to worry that he’ll wind up in prison like his father.
Release date: October 24, 2018 (USA)
Director: Antonio Méndez Esparza
Producer: Pedro Hernández Santos
Screenplay: Antonio Méndez Esparza
Awards: Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award