MPI // 2011 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // February 21st, 2013
"In order to become an adult, you must first survive being a teenager."
When I worked at a Writing Center years ago, a colleague invented a fictional audience member to help students figure out how to write papers. His name was Stupid Bob, and he was an ordinary guy, but like most ordinary guys thought he was a bit smarter than average. She explained that this meant when you write something for Stupid Bob, you couldn't say important things just once (since he might not realize their importance), but you couldn't repeat yourself too many times or he'd feel insulted. There's a bit of Stupid Bob in all of us; when we flick on the TV to watch a movie, many of us are looking for that perfect balance. We want to see something that's familiar (because that's comforting and we can turn our brains off a bit), but not so familiar that we feel insulted by the filmmakers' lack of effort. Yelling to the Sky makes the stakes of this problem really clear: though it's a fine drama of urban difficulties, it's a bit too much like another recent flick (Precious) for many viewers to want to take it seriously.
Sweetness O'Hara (Zoe Kravitz, The Brave One) is a 17-year-old girl of mixed race who lives in a rough neighborhood in Brooklyn. She has no support from her messed-up parents, no friends at school, and no prospects for her future. To get by she decides to get involved in dealing drugs, and we watch as her path takes her closer and closer to the streets.
Writer/director Victoria Mahoney deserves praise for getting her flick made; unless they're based on bestselling books few financiers are looking to tell stories of young, nonwhite women in the inner city. With the help of Sundance Labs, Mahoney shot the flick on location, and her direction is assured throughout. She also did an amazing job choosing a cast. Zoe Kravitz holds the whole film together as Sweetness, and the rest of the cast (including Gabby Sidibe of Precious fame) build up a strong impression of the emotional life that Sweetness must navigate. The film also gets props for filming on location in several boroughs of New York City. It's a small touch, but it does lend a certain gravity to Sweetness' situation that a more anonymous setting would have denied.
Yelling to the Sky (Blu-ray) does a fine job with the film as well. The 2.40:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is solid. Detail is generally strong, especially with well-lit outdoor scenes, and black levels are deep and consistent during interiors. Colors are also well-saturated. The DTS-HD 5.1 track keeps dialogue clean and clear from the center channel, while the surrounds get a decent workout (especially in outdoor scenes).
Extras kick off with an interview of writer/director Victoria Mahoney. It's not that long but it does cover the background of the picture and its shooting. A featurette gives us a peek into the shooting of the film, and the film's trailer rounds out the disc.
The problem with Yelling to the Sky initially is that it follows a little too closely on the heels of the well-known Precious. That's something worth overlooking perhaps. What's more problematic is the feeling that somewhere during the script stage there was a checklist that the narrative was compared to: Mixed-race protagonist? Check. Abusive father? Check. Gangs in school? Check. Teen pregnancy? Check. And the list goes on. I don't deny that a single person could experience all of the myriad social difficulties that Sweetness encounters, but the film just doesn't have enough time to effectively deal with them all. That leaves many of them feeling like an afterthought, like window dressing or accessories for the horrible life that Sweetness is forced to live. The narrative itself is also much more focused on mood and character than on strict dramatic drive. The plot doesn't have a lot of tension or momentum to it, which I'm sure many viewers will find problematic.
Yelling to the Sky is a promising debut from writer/director Victoria Mahoney. It paints a suitably bleak portrait of a young woman growing up in the inner city. While it may at times feel a bit too "afterschool special," the film is worth tracking down for fans of solid acting. Yelling to the Sky (Blu-ray) is a fine presentation and makes the film easy to recommend for a rental.
Not perfect, but not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R