Home/Conscious Creation, Drama, Movie Reviews/‘We Grown Now’ explores the joys and perils of growing up

‘We Grown Now’ explores the joys and perils of growing up

“We Grown Now” (2023 production, 2024 release). Cast: Blake Cameron James, Gian Knight Ramirez, Jurnee Smollett, S. Epatha Merkerson, Lil Rel Howery, Avery Holliday, Madisyn Barnes, RJ Lewis, Charles Jenkins. Director: Minhal Baig. Screenplay: Minhal Baig. Web site. Trailer.

Childhood is the time of life when we form our views about how the world works and what it potentially has in store for us. It presents us with a variety of options for how we come to regard it, either positively or negatively or somewhere in between, a perspective often determined by the circumstances to which we’re exposed. But what matters most in all this is what we end up doing with our beliefs about these conditions and experiences, as they ultimately shape what unfolds going forward. And, as we generally come to find out, it helps to have kindred spirits who accompany us for this journey of exploration. Those are among the ideas examined in the moving new coming of age drama, “We Grown Now.”

Itʼs 1992, and living in Chicago’s infamous Cabrini-Green Public Housing Project is about as challenging a place to grow up as any. Even though the complex has long had a reputation for crime, violence and street gang activity, it was near its worst at this time, particularly in the wake of the killing of seven-year-old Dantrell Davis, who was fatally shot while walking to elementary school with his mother. The shooting raised awareness of the conditions at the facility, but it also resulted in a harsh crackdown for residents, including those just seeking to live as normal a life as possible under such circumstances.

This is the backdrop against which two young boys, Malik (Blake Cameron James) and Eric (Gian Knight Ramirez), are growing up. As lifelong friends from birth, they spend much of their time together, attending school, exploring the world around them and attempting to have fun in the midst of what has essentially become an urban warzone. However, despite the challenges of this way of life, they seek to maintain their sense of youthful exuberance and wonder, striving to keep the prevailing situation from impinging on their lives and their outlook for the future. Even though they’re still trying to figure things out for themselves, they remain vigilant and hopeful about tomorrow, recognizing the potential and self-worth that they each possess, despite the presence of circumstances that threaten to derail their plans and hold them back. And, of course, having a companion along for such a challenging ride can’t hurt.

Looking out upon their world from Chicago’s infamous Cabrini-Green Public Housing Project, lifelong friends Malik (Blake Cameron James, left) and Eric (Gian Knight Ramirez, right) envision a future different from the one they have growing up, as seen in the new coming of age drama, “We Grown Now.” Photo courtesy of Participant and Sony Pictures Classics.

Malik lives with his single mother, Dolores (Jurnee Smollett), grandmother, Anita (S. Epatha Merkerson), and younger sister, Diana (Madisyn Barnes), while Eric resides with his widowed father, Jason (Lil Rel Howery), and college age sister, Amber (Avery Holliday). Each household wrestles with its respective challenges, but the young friends do what they can to make the best of their circumstances and to offer support to their families. And, through it all, they envision what life can be like, keeping their eyes firmly planted on its possibilities in the face of its realities, considerations skillfully depicted and seamlessly integrated in a series of fantasy and dream sequences.

This curious combination of opposing conditions yields an innately contradictory outlook on life. On the one hand, Malik and Eric get an up-close look at the harshness of economic difficulties and street violence. At the same time, however, they also have opportunities to avail themselves of the beauty of the Windy City’s stunning lakefront and the richness of its culture at facilities like the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as the simple joys of just being able to play with other kids in Cabrini’s outdoor courtyards. These experiences enable them to simultaneously see both the best and the worst in life and their environment, allowing them to foster a worldview that shows them the diverse possibilities that life can offer. The question in this, of course, becomes, what will they choose to embrace?

In the midst of these explorations, though, Malik and Eric must also confront the everyday personal developments that come with growing up, some of which significantly test their abilities to come up with ways to respond. These can be painful experiences, to be sure, but it helps to have a wide range of outlooks waiting in the wings to draw upon in devising feasible solutions, options that the boys develop through their interactions with one another. These options, in turn, enable them to form the beliefs they need to create a world around them that suits their needs, wants and desires. And, after all, isn’t that one of the primary objectives sought in the process of growing up?

Despite the challenges of growing up in a threatening environment, Malik Johnson (Blake Cameron James) still manages to see wonder in his life and future, a dream captured in writer-director Minhal Baig’s latest, the moving coming of age drama, “We Grown Now,” currently playing theatrically. Photo courtesy of Participant and Sony Pictures Classics.

What we end up choosing to believe during this time of life is crucial for what we end up manifesting subsequently. Our beliefs provide us with a template for our lives going forward, and they set the tone for our existence, the result of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains we employ these resources in the shaping of our reality. It’s unclear how many of us are consciously aware of this school of thought (especially in the tender years of childhood), yet its influence is undeniable, especially when we look back years later and examine how we arrived at where we’re at as adults. In some ways, though, at least where Malik and Eric are concerned, it’s apparent that they have some sense of this in their youth, particularly when they stridently proclaim how they see themselves in the face of a world that seems determined to test them and their ability to get by.

The importance of the beliefs we form and embrace at this stage of life can’t be overstated, as they tend to set the course for what lies ahead. In many respects, this is a time when we often come to characterize the nature of our existence as one that embodies the notion of the glass being half full or half empty. In actuality, it’s rarely an all-or-nothing proposition, though how we perceive its character can negate that idea, leaving us stuck in a mindset where conditions tend to reflect our beliefs – and hence saddle us with outlooks that reflect either one end of that spectrum or the other.

Because of this, and despite the challenges of their circumstances, Malik and Eric have an opportunity to view both ends of the continuum, to both dream and to see reality for what it can be. I find it interesting that they’re in a version of Chicago that simultaneously shows the city at its best and at its worst. Consequently, this provides them with a sense of balance that they can draw upon to temper their thinking – and, hence, the formation of their beliefs and the manifestation of the existence they experience.

No matter how challenging her life may be, single mother Dolores Johnson (Jurnee Smollett, right) always manages to find time for her kids, as seen in writer-director Minhal Baig’s latest, the moving coming of age drama, “We Grown Now,” currently playing theatrically. Photo courtesy of Participant and Sony Pictures Classics.

To some, this may sound like oh so much warm fuzzy pie-in-the-sky thinking given the conditions under which the youngsters are being raised. However, isn’t it ultimately preferable that they don’t grow up seeing their world only through the lenses of rose-colored glasses yet still maintain their ability to dream about ambitious possibilities for their futures despite the prevailing difficulties of their circumstances? These are profound conditions under which to grow up and come of age, and, to their credit, Malik and Eric appear to make the most of them, all challenges aside. They may not inherently know where they’re headed, but they at least recognize the potential and leave themselves open to it. And, fortunately for them, they have each other as they embark on this journey, a fortuitous scenario that provides them with much-needed comfort and support, as well as mirrors and sounding boards for one another, resources that can only help them to navigate the uncharted territory before them.

As the film’s title suggests, the boys ultimately welcome the opportunity to embrace the sentiment that it expresses, uncertain and unnerving though it might seem. But doesn’t that come with the territory for all of us during our youth? And aren’t we better off for recognizing this, accepting the responsibility that comes with it and facing it head on, no matter how undefined and intimidating it might seem? It’s a skill (when backed by appropriate beliefs) that can serve us well as we mature and grow into adulthood. It’s also one whose absence can leave us out in the cold if we don’t develop it during our formative years, the kind that Malik and Eric are in the process of developing as their story unfolds.

Regardless of what life may throw their way, besties Malik (Blake Cameron James, right) and Eric (Gian Knight Ramirez, left, back to camera) are always able to find time for one another, as seen in the new coming of age drama, “We Grown Now.” Photo courtesy of Participant and Sony Pictures Classics.

No one ever said growing up was easy. It’s inherently a time for a lot of hard lessons, but they’re the kind of teachings that we need to help prepare us for life. And, depending on the circumstances, it can be particularly challenging but also rewarding at the same time. Such is the experience of Malik and Eric in writer-director Minhal Baig’s third feature outing, an intimate, sensitive yet gripping depiction of childhood under difficult circumstances but one that’s laced with hopeful aspirations for becoming who we want to be. This nominee for three 2023 Independent Spirit Awards, including best feature, is just about perfect in every regard, from its gorgeous cinematography and expert film editing to its fine original score and the performances of its superb ensemble cast, particularly the young protagonists, who come off completely naturally and effectively. What’s more, there’s almost nothing in the narrative of this film that we all can’t relate to in one way or another, even if we didn’t grow up under the same conditions as those experienced by the characters in this film. It will touch you deeply and certainly move you – possibly to tears at some point – but this is a worthwhile release that absolutely should not be missed. The film is currently playing theatrically.

Trite though it may be, an old adage maintains “That which does not kill us only makes us stronger.” That’s certainly applicable to the circumstances faced by the characters in this picture. They no doubt have their struggles – some that many would say no one should have to face, especially those of a tender young age. However, those conditions also prompt them to seek something better for themselves, thanks to their outlooks and the presence of others around them who help to foster those perspectives. By recognizing and embracing these kinds of elements, we each have an opportunity to become “grown now” – and to enjoy the fruits that come from such thinking.

Copyright © 2024, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

One Comment

  1. Hortense West May 1, 2024 at 11:35 pm - Reply

    I have read some excellent stuff here Definitely value bookmarking for revisiting I wonder how much effort you put to make the sort of excellent informative website

Leave A Comment

Go to Top