Premature (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): One summer romance in Harlem

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“Premature”, which won the Someone to Watch Award at the Film Independent Spirit Awards early in this year, is a modest but intimate tale of young romance set in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. Mainly revolving around a young African American women who happens to fall in love when she is about to take a crucial forward step for her life, the movie casually flows from one episodic moment to another along with its heroine, and that is more than enough for compensating some unpolished spots in its overall result.

At the beginning, the movie observes Aryanna (Zora Howard) and her neighborhood friends enjoying their another casual summer day. As a young aspiring writer, Aryanna is soon going to attend a college outside New York City for honing her writing skill, but she wants to enjoy her remaining free time during this summer as much as she can, and we get an amusingly lively moment when she and her friends flirt a bit with several African American lads who happen to be around them.

When Aryanna and her friends continue to enjoy their free time at a park in their Harlem neighborhood area, Aryanna comes to notice a young and handsome African American man named Isaiah (Joshua Boone), and it does not take much for them to feel something mutual as they interact more with each other. When they come to meet again not long after that, Aryanna finds herself more attracted to him, and Isaiah is also willing to move onto the next step along with her as they enjoy a little private time together on a riverside.

Eventually, Aryanna spends a night at Isaiah’s small residence, and Isaiah shows more of himself as approaching closer to her. As a lad who has aspired to become a musician as good as his father, he surely knows how to set the right mood for their first night with music, and we accordingly gets a tender love scene which palpitates with sensitivity and sensuality as a piece of jazz music is played in the background.

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After that point, Aryanna begins to consider living with Isaiah, but, of course, there soon come a number of complications. Her single mother, who has always wished the best for her daughter, is not so pleased with how frequently Aryanna spends nights outside, and Aryanna, who has been not so amused with how her mother has moved onto one man to another for years, becomes more distant to her mother while not talking that much about her ongoing relationship with Isaiah, and we are not so surprised when she later comes to decide to leave her home and then starts to stay in Isaiah’s residence.

It initially seems that Aryanna can lean on Isaiah more, but, of course, their relationship takes a downturn as she comes to realize that he is not exactly a perfect match for her. At one point, it suddenly turns out that he is not that honest to her about his life before her, and she is understandably furious about that. While they subsequently come to have a reconciliation between them, their relationship does not feel as exciting or romantic as before, and that bitter aspect is clearly conveyed to us when they attempt a lovemaking without much satisfaction.

And there is also a certain unexpected problem Aryanna has to deal with in one way or another as soon as possible. Quite conflicted about whether she should tell Isaiah about this matter or not, she becomes more uncertain about her relationship with him than before, and this consequently leads to more conflict and estrangement between them.

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While its last act is rather rough and uneven due to a few jarring moments including the one showing a sudden heated argument between one of Aryanna’s friends and Isaiah on the social status difference between African American males and females, the movie still engages us mainly thanks to its vibrant urban atmosphere by the courtesy of cinematographer Laura Valladao, and I also enjoyed a number of lively scenes spontaneously generated among Aryanna and other characters around her. To be frank with you, it was sometimes a bit difficult for me to understand the rapid exchanges among them, but these exchanges do not feel forced or artificial at all, while also reminding me of what I observed during my brief tour in New York City in early 2004.

In addition, director/co-writer/co-producer Rashaad Ernesto Green draws the good performances from his two lead performers. As the heart and soul of the film, Zora Howard, who also wrote the screenplay with Green, is compelling even when her character does not seem to express anything, and she and Joshua Boone, who is also convincing in his part, have a nice low-key chemistry between them during their several key scenes. In case of several other substantial supporting performers including Tashiana Washington, Alexis Marie Wint, Imani Lewis, and Michelle Wilson, they are solid on the whole, and Wilson is particularly good when her character instinctively comes to sense what Aryanna has been hiding from her character for a while.

In conclusion, “Premature” works as a leisurely but sensitive mix of coming-of-age drama and romance tale, and Green, who previously made a feature film debut with “Gun Hill Road” (2011), shows here considerable skill and competence as a good filmmaker. Although it does not break any new ground, his movie achieves as much as intended, and it will be interesting to see what may come from him during next several years.

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