Movie Review - Brotherly Love (2015)
|Eric D. Hill Jr. (left) and Romeo Miller|
in 'Brotherly Love' (2015)
Keke Palmer stars as Jackie Taylor, the youngest of three siblings living in the Overbrook neighborhood in West Philadelphia. She's a cheerleader, but she spends a lot of time in the library reading all kinds of intelligent and intellectual books. She's not that different from Palmer's character in Akeelah and the Bee, except her pursuits here aren't strictly educational. Jackie is an aspiring singer, so she's also a mix of Palmer's character in Joyful Noise.
Cory Hardrict co-stars as June Taylor, the eldest of the three siblings. In lieu of his father not being in the picture, June is the father-figure to his brother and sister. He also does a lot to take care of his mother, played by Macy Gray (Training Day and Shadowboxer). The way he does take care of everyone is possibly through illegal means. June appears to be the leader of one of the two street-gangs.
Eric D. Hill Jr. (Hurricane Season and Orange is the New Black) also co-stars as Sergio Taylor, the middle child of the three siblings. He's also the tallest, as he is an aspiring basketball player who wants to go to the NBA. One of his friends name-checks the paraellel to Hoop Dreams (1994). He hopes to use basketball to get out of poverty and his difficult circumstances.
Sergio's friends are ultimately good people, but they threaten to pull Sergio into trouble through petty crime. His closest friend is Sean, played by Romeo Miller. Miller is a rapper, male model and basketball player on his own right. Sergio's other friend is Dez, played by Justin Martin, but it's Sean who gets more screen time and who is the more funny and charismatic.
Quincy Brown (We the Party) plays Chris Collins, the love interest for Jackie. From the moment he appears on screen, he's supposed to be the perfect guy. Chris is the son of a music producer who seduces Jackie with his knowledge of the books she's reading as well as with promises to push her hopes as a singer. Brown is the son of Kim Porter and Sean Combs, so his casting is almost art imitating life. Brown is also the biological son of R&B singer Al B. Sure!, so obviously he's gorgeous and absolute eye-candy. Yet, he's almost too good to be true.
A lot of the problems with the movie center on how Jamal Hill establishes things, or rather how he doesn't establish things. There's a lot of lacking in context. Through opening narration, he does set up the Overbrook neighborhood, particularly Overbrook High School as this castle on the hill. Jamal Hill lets us know that there are people of the hill who are one of the divisions and there are people at the bottom of the hill who are the other division.
Jackie and her brothers are part of the people at the bottom. Chris and some others are part of the people of the hill. Because Jackie and her brothers are the protagonists, we spend the most time with them, but we lose any sight of the people of the hill. Jackie's relationship with Chris is supposed to illuminate that, but the people of the hill aren't illuminated. It all remains in the dark. I'm not even sure of the geography. I was born and lived in Philadelphia for several years, but I got no sense of the landscape of this neighborhood.
One really problematic moment, which constitutes a spoiler, is a crime perpetrated by Sergio and his friends. Dez learns that there is a house with a lot of valuable items that they can rob. At first, Sergio doesn't want to go along, but eventually he does. They trip the alarm accidentally and the cops arrive. Sean and Dez are arrested. Sergio hides in the upstairs bedroom. One of the cops goes upstairs and finds Sergio, but that cop doesn't arrest him. The cop lets Sergio go.
Now, on one hand, this is a good thing. Obviously, if Sergio were arrested and put into jail for breaking-and-entering and theft, that would have ruined his chances for his basketball scholarship, which could have derailed his life. The cop saved him, and we learn that the reason the cop saves him is because the cop recognizes Sergio as the local basketball star that he is.
On the other hand, Hill doesn't establish or properly build things, so that this moment with the cop feels organic or likely. I'm writing this review in the wake of the Baltimore protests and riots following the Freddie Gray funeral. Freddie Gray like so many unarmed black men has died at the hands of police. For this cop not to arrest Sergio feels out of step as to what's been brought to light ever since the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, following the Michael Brown death at the hands of police.
It could be wish-fulfillment or a kind of fantasia for Jamal Hill where he's envisioning how he wants things to end where a cop makes an evermore compassionate choice. Hill could also be commenting on the privileges of sports figures or potential sports stars. All of that would have been fine, but Hill doesn't do due diligence to lay down elements to make the moment wholly satisfying. For example, we should have seen more from that cop so that we learned his name and believe more why he would make that choice.
Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for violence and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 29 mins.