Movie Review - 1982

This film premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. It played in various festivals through 2014. It seemed not to make much noise through 2015, but it got a limited, theatrical release on February 26, 2016. Reportedly, it only ran in one theater in Los Angeles, but there could have been more screens across the country. It was then immediately released on DVD and VOD on March 1. It was written and directed by Tommy Oliver in his feature debut who shows great potential as a filmmaker. He's crafted a semi-autobiographical portrait of an African-American family hit with substance abuse that has provided a small platform for intimate but powerful performances from all the actors and cast.

Hill Harper (CSI: NY and Limitless) stars as Tim Brown, a good heart, blue-collar, Philadelphia man who is opening his own laundromat. He's married to Shenae, played by Sharon Leal (Dreamgirls and Why Did I Get Married?), a housewife and mother. They have one child, a 10-year-old daughter named Maya, played by Troi Zee. The film follows a few months out of their lives in what looks like the summer of 1982. It's told from Tim's point-of-view, as he loses his wife to a growing drug addiction and has to care for his child alone.

Even if I hadn't been told that Oliver shot this film in the actual location in the City of Brotherly Love where he grew up and experienced in real-life having a drug-addicted mother, even if I hadn't been told that, as a Philadelphian myself, I was able to recognize the authenticity of this movie's setting. Oliver never does an aerial shot or a wide-establishing angle to show any of the distinctive, Philly landmarks, unlike Creed or any Rocky Balboa film, but the neighborhoods and homes in Philly have their own vibe and character that Oliver is able to capture.

A lot of the movie takes place inside an actual, Philly row home. There are no frills. It's just the actors within four walls and occasionally out on the streets. Oliver amplifies the actors' performances as many filmmakers have with long, continuous shots. This technique was recently made famous again with Alejandro G. Iñárritu who won Best Director at the Oscars twice in a row, but Oliver made this film before Iñárritu did all that.

Of course, there have been plenty of films that have dealt with a person dealing with substance abuse or drug addiction, or a person dealing with a family member or loved one with such. Lady Sings the Blues (1972), Things We Lost in the Fire (2007) or Keep the Lights On (2012) are some examples. This film doesn't break any barriers or is groundbreaking in that regard. It does something simply but it does it simply well.

The film is notable in that it's the final film featuring Oscar-nominee Ruby Dee before she died in 2014. She's not featured much in this film. It's interesting that she plays the mother of Harper's character, as Harper also played alongside Dee's late husband, Ossie Davis in Get on the Bus (1996).

Other actors like Bokeem Woodbine (Jason's Lyric), Quinton Aaron (The Blind Side) and Lala Anthony (Think Like a Man) are good in their brief roles here. The one true standout is Emmy-winner Wayne Brady (Whose Line Is It Anyway?) who plays Alonzo, a local drug dealer who's more involved in Tim's life than is desired. It goes against Brady's typically comedic and game-show persona to do this more gritty role, but he's perfectly comfortable in it.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language, some violence and a sexual situation.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 27 mins.


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