Home/Conscious Creation, Drama, Movie Reviews/‘Story Ave’ seeks to stave off tragedy for at-risk youth

‘Story Ave’ seeks to stave off tragedy for at-risk youth

“Story Ave” (2023). Cast: Asante Blackk, Luis Guzmán, Melvin Gregg, Alex R. Hibbert, Cassandra Freeman, Coral Peña, Hassan Johnson, Sue Kim, Ade Otukoya. Director: Aristotle Torres. Screenplay: Aristotle Torres and Bonsu Thompson. Web site. Trailer.

For many at-risk youth, there comes a turning point where they can head off in one direction or another, each with vastly different long-term outcomes. The results couldn’t be more opposed to one another as far as what ultimately transpires, either a promising future or a destiny full of tragedy and heartache. Steering those individuals in the right direction can be exasperating, too, especially when they can’t envision the consequences of their actions. Fortunately, however, there are guardian angels in human form who just might be able to point them in the right direction, an odyssey explored in the gripping urban drama, “Story Ave.”

South Bronx graffiti artist Kadir Grayson (Asante Blackk), a gifted teenage illustrator with real talent, is desperately struggling to find himself. He’s having difficulty dealing with his grief over the death of his younger brother, often acting out his frustration, even at times like the family repast in honor of his junior sibling. This conduct, in turn, has led to an inflammatory home life, including difficult relations with his mother, Olivia (Cassandra Freeman), who earnestly says she’s trying to understand him and his feelings (a statement Kadir doesn’t believe), and his stepfather, Reggie (Hassan Johnson), who has little patience for what he considers to be wholly unacceptable behavior. In addition, these conditions have led to further complications, such as Kadir’s growing difficulty at school, necessitating frequent tension-filled meetings with his guidance counselor, Mrs. Chen (Sue Kim).

What’s most troubling, though, is that Kadir’s restlessness has led him to fall in with the wrong crowd, the ruling neighborhood graffiti gang, headed by Sean Skemes Hernandez (Melvin Gregg), the older brother of a classmate, Moe (Alex R. Hibbert). While Moe is generally a good friend, Skemes is bad news. He convinces Kadir that he can help him carry out his graffiti ventures, including providing supplies and protection, in exchange for his assistance in various notorious activities. But, to see if Kadir is worthy of his offer, Skemes gives him a test – go out and pull off a robbery. Skemes doesn’t care who Kadir robs or how he does it as long as he comes away with something of value for his efforts. And, to help him succeed, Skemes gives him a gun.

To prove himself as a worthy gang member, graffiti artist Kadir Grayson (Assante Blackk, right) attempts to hold up New York City transit employee Luis Torres (Luis Guzmàn, left) on a vacant train platform in the gripping urban drama, “Story Ave,” now available for streaming online and home media. Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

Being rather small in stature for his age, Kadir is somewhat intimidated by the prospect of this challenge. Even holding the gun seems to be a bigger task than he’s capable of. However, he’s determined to prove himself as a bona fide gang operative, no matter what it takes. So, while standing on a largely vacant train platform one night, he decides to hold up a stranger who’s by himself, Luis Torres (Luis Guzmán), a streetwise New York City transit employee who’s heading home from work.

As the incident unfolds, Luis can see that the young man is clearly in over his head, so he offers Kadir a deal to defuse the situation. Instead of filing charges of attempted robbery, Luis agrees to give him the money he demands in exchange for joining him for a meal and an opportunity to talk. Kadir is skeptical that Luis would willingly hand over his cash as simply as that, unsure of his prospective victim’s motives and wondering whether he’s being set up himself. But, before getting himself in too deep, Kadir relents, and the unlikely duo is soon off to a restaurant.

Luis takes Kadir to his favorite hangout, a diner that’s home to his friend and confidante, Gloria (Coral Peña), a genial waitress who welcomes Kadir with the same good cheer that she extends to her longtime loyal customer. Kadir is puzzled by the kind treatment extended to him by a would-be robbery victim and complete stranger, as it’s unlike what he receives from those in so many other areas of late. His guard is understandably up. However, the more he and Luis talk, the more Kadir’s defenses slowly come down.

The conversation between Luis and Kadir is sincere and sensitive but frank. Luis can see that the young man is confused and in trouble. He also senses that Kadir has genuine talent but that he needs support, understanding and direction, elements that are missing from his life, both at home and definitely in his circle of “friends.” To rectify this, Luis takes Kadir under his wing to help him straighten out his life before it’s too late.

In no time, Kadir is virtually living with Luis. His benefactor provides what’s been lacking from his life. He also helps connect Kadir to an educational opportunity that could enable him to legitimately develop his creative potential rather than having to rely on the dangerous ways of being a graffiti artist. He even receives inspiration from Gloria, who introduces Kadir to her artist boyfriend, Ade (Ade Otukoya), and newfound backing from Mrs. Chen, who helps him pursue his new schooling option. It’s quite a turnaround in a relatively short time.

In turn, Luis, who lives alone and has obvious challenges of his own, such as failing health and something of a drinking problem, gets back from his new friend what he gives out. Luis also appreciates the company, given that it appears he’s been lonely for some time and for reasons that he’s quietly hesitant to discuss. But, despite the growth and blossoming of their relationship, something is seemingly and increasingly amiss. And, when those revelations surface, all the progress that has been made threatens to unravel.

To defuse an attempted robbery, New York City transit employee Luis Torres (Luis Guzmàn, left) offers to give money to the would-be thief, graffiti artist Kadir Grayson (Assante Blackk, right), in exchange for a meal and opportunity to talk in writer-director Aristotle Torres’s debut feature, “Story Ave,” now available for streaming online and home media. Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

Will Kadir continue to get his life on track, or will he backslide into the problems he has been trying to leave behind? This is yet another critical turning point in the young man’s life, making clear just how much risk is present in the lives of at-risk youth. But, as becomes apparent as this story unfolds, the aid of others can only go so far in eliminating those pitfalls, as it’s the youths themselves who must decide which paths they ultimately choose to pursue. So what will Kadir choose? That remains to be seen.

Where Kadir goes from here is, of course, up to him. But that decision will depend entirely on what he believes about life and the direction it should take. Given his circumstances, he’s clearly at a crossroad with very different destinations in store. He could opt for a bright future with tremendous potential for artistic expression, a life in which he and his work are respected, appreciated and valued, supported by people who care about his well-being, including his new allies and maybe even his own family. Or he could slide back into the bitterness, anger and frustration that characterized his life before these newfound possibilities emerged and drove him into the hands of bad influences. The question for him is, which one will he embrace?

Kadir’s beliefs about these choices are crucial, as they will dictate what materializes in his life, an outcome determined by the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains these intangible building blocks are responsible for what manifests in our existence. It’s unlikely Kadir has heard of this school of thought or its principles, but he’s at a point where he needs to carefully evaluate his beliefs and the options they represent, because they’re likely to yield very different, diametrically opposed outcomes.

In essence, Kadir needs to wise up fast. He needs to take a step back and objectively look at what each path has to offer. Hanging out with gangbangers may provide thrills and excitement and feed his need for lashing out against those whom he thinks have wronged him. But what kind of long-term prospects does that course present? The danger-filled life that Skemes is leading should give Kadir a good idea of what he might face if he chooses to follow suit. Is that what he really wants?

By contrast, pursuing the options that Luis, Gloria, Mrs. Chen and Olivia have sought to help provide presents Kadir with a much more promising future, one in which the hazards of street life are fundamentally absent. This course might be more conventional and force Kadir to clean up his act, which would certainly take some effort on his part. It would also likely require him to confront the issues that have been troubling him, a step that he might not be willing to take and could even push him into eating some foul-tasting crow. Those measures may be unpalatable enough to keep him from following through on this option. But, if he concertedly takes the time to assess the eventual results of these two courses, he could come to realize which one has the better long-term prospects.

With his classmate Maurice Moe Hernandez (Alex R. Hibbert, left), South Bronx graffiti artist Kadir Grayson (Assante Blackk, right) embarks on a potentially perilous journey in the gripping urban drama, “Story Ave.” Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

The steps Kadir needs to take could indeed be major stumbling blocks in choosing the better path. He may believe that they’re too painful and call for too much work, and that’s understandable, especially for someone of his age and limited life experience. However, if he passes on this option, things could turn out badly and he’d still be left without resolution to the problems that have been dogging him to begin with. That would seem like a doubly dubious outcome, but is he cognizant enough to recognize this and invest workable beliefs into this situation to improve his circumstances?

This is where having allies helps. Positive influences like those mentioned previously can prove quite beneficial in guiding Kadir to make the right choices, to take the risk out of being an at-risk youth. By working with Luis, Gloria, Mrs. Chen and Olivia, Kadir can draw upon their wisdom and insights as valuable sounding boards, helping to steer him in the right direction and to formulate beneficial beliefs for creating a better future. Such collaborations can lead to effective co-creations that set Kadir on the right track for tomorrow. We can only hope he’s paying attention – and that he avails himself of the assistance that’s open to him.

“Story Ave” is an uplifting and heartwarming tale, albeit somewhat clichéd and predictable at times, especially when it comes to the overlong wait for certain all-too-entirely expected revelations to surface. Nevertheless, director Aristotle Torres’s debut feature provides viewers with more than its share of time-honored wisdom and hope for those who could easily end up following a different and more destructive course. The fine performances of Blackk and Guzmán convincingly sell the material, which is presented with compelling cinematography and film editing, though the sound quality could stand some definite improvement, particularly in the opening half-hour, when the dialogue becomes almost unintelligible at times. Still, there’s much to be said for the insights served up in this intergenerational coming of age drama, proving that there’s always a possibility to set things right, even when they seem to be headed in an irretrievable downward spiral. And that’s a “story” that’s more than just a street name. The film is available for streaming online and on home media.

Life is filled with turning points, though some are decidedly more important than others. That’s especially true for us while we’re in our adolescence, a time when the template for the rest of our lives is often being put into place. And, if that weren’t difficult enough in itself, it can be further complicated when we attempt to do so under trying circumstances, as Kadir’s experience so graphically shows. These conditions thus illustrate the significance of understanding our beliefs, for they play a huge role in understanding ourselves and why our lives have turned out as they have – and are likely to turn out going forward. There’s inherent risk in that for all of us, but the degree of that risk can be turned up if we fail to get a grip on how and why we arrive at where we stand. Fortunately, we have the means to figure our way out, provided that we’re willing to put in the time and effort to do so – and to willingly write a story with a happy ending.

Copyright © 2023-2024, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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