by Christie Robb
The debut feature film from director/co-writer Aristotle Torres feels familiar. Talented young Black man in New York City, paused for a moment at one of life’s crossroads. One road heads toward safety and higher education, another leads into gang life and violence. But, we need a continuous supply of coming-of-age stories ’cause…well, kids just keep coming of age.
In Story Ave, talented teenage artist Kadir Grayson (Asante Blackk, This Is Us) is a wreck. His brother recently died in an accident for which Kadir blames himself. His mom is lashing out and looking for someone to blame. He escapes into the found family of his graffiti gang led by the mercurial Skemes (Melvin Gregg). But he can only gain full membership by bringing back some cash. So, armed with Skemes’s gun, he hits the streets. It is during an attempted mugging that he meets Luis (Luis Guzmán), an MTA worker that acts like the world’s chillest alcoholic guardian angel.
While the story might be familiar, Torres’s movie is a visual delight, which makes sense given his background directing music videos. Often bathed in neon primary shades or strobing color fluorescing in blacklight, the shot composition echoes the poppy style of the bubble letters the characters are applying to the sides of buildings.
Asante Blackk is just a gift. His performance is perfectly understated. He manages to show the complex range of Kadir’s shifting emotions, but he keeps them on a tight leash, avoiding the histrionics and sentimentality that the script could have easily lead him into. Guzmán, too, is good. But he’s given less to work with. One look at him wincing and holding his side and you know exactly how his character arc is going to end.
The ending of the film, too, feels predictable and like it comes too easily. It is wrapped up neatly in a college application essay voiceover that feels as if tacked on in postproduction. But as this is Torres’s first feature, I’m excited to see more from him as he comes of age as a feature director.