Thursday, August 20, 2020

Charm City Kings Review: A Fantastic Cast And Complicated Story Confronting Many Difficult Issues

Charm City Kings Movie Starring Teyonah Parris, Milan Ray, Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Meek Mill
Release date: August 21, 2020
Running time: 121 minutes
Starring: Teyonah Parris, Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Meek Mill

Charm City Kings portrays life in Baltimore through the eyes of a young boy trying to become a man too quickly.  Young Miles "Mouse" (Winston) has a history in this area, with his brother being a prominent dirt bike rider in the city.  Mouse is torn between wanting to be in that world, but also pursuing his own interests; wanting to be tough and impress those around him but also trying to pursue his passion for animals in a much less glamorous life.  Coupled with the poor decision making and impatience of youth, Mouse tries to navigate these conflicting desires in a city and an underground bike scene that he lives in but does not truly know. 

Charm City Kings Movie Starring Teyonah Parris, Milan Ray, Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Meek Mill
This movie has an air of authenticity that is refreshing on its surface.  The filming was all done in Baltimore, so many of the landmarks, streets, and eating establishments are true to life (they even got Hip Hop Chicken).  And there were a lot of little details that helped with the authenticity, such as the film nailing the distinct Baltimore accent, which is difficult in itself.  And the film making the phone number from someone who was from Oakland a 510 area code.  And for a film about bikes, there were some really great bike riding scenes and chase sequences.

On top of the setting, the film did a great job of casting.  It should come as no surprise, but in a movie set in Baltimore, Charm City Kings has a predominantly black cast and I applaud the filmmakers for the talent that they recruited for this project.  The main thrust of the film involves the young trio of friends, who fall into familiar tropes.  Miles is the "good kid" who is trying to grow up too fast, Lamont (Donielle T. Hansley Jr.) is the hard one, and Sweartagawd (Kezii Curtis) is the overweight comic relief.  Much like the trio from the Television show "The Chi" this trio mirrors their roles to a tee.  But despite these familiar tropes, the trio have great chemistry together and do a great job growing up on screen with each other.  Of the three, I was particularly impressed with Winston's performance; he is a natural in the role and portrays a wide range of emotions in this film.  Mouse's mom (Teyonah Parris)  is another highlight of this film, capturing viewers in each and every scene she is in with humor, wit, attitude, and ferocity born from her situation.  Blax (Meek Mill) is another treat in this film because not only is his performance outstanding, but also because his character isn't your stereotypical one.  Although it would have been easy for the filmmakers to draw on that stereotype for the film, and you can see a lot of Meek's own personal experiences in the Blax character, it was truly a treat to see him take a different approach.

Charm City Kings Movie Starring Teyonah Parris, Milan Ray, Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Meek Mill However, although I have already praised this film for its realism, the way Charm City Kings portrays the culture of Baltimore is a mixed bag.  Although they nailed the distinct Baltimore accent, I did feel that some of the writing and lingo was forced.  And although there is a Ravens reference in the movie, you cannot display Bmore (as they call it) without having the color purple on full display.  And although it is only used in the title, no one actually refers to Baltimore as Charm City.  As much as this movie did good, I felt it went longer than it needed to be and some scenes did drag.  And, strangely, for a movie about bikes, despite there being great chase scenes, it felt like that was few and far between.

However, this film is a treat for those who give it the time.  The film does an admirable job authentically displaying a part of America that most probably haven't had any interest in exploring.  And in doing this, it gives an all black cast a chance to shine.  And it really does confront difficult issues in an interesting way.  I was impressed by some of the nuance on display, such as the conflict between a smart, poetic boy trying to downplay that in order to impress his friends.  The film also highlights a perpetual cycle that can happen and some of the problems and pitfalls of trying to grow up too fast.  And, for a movie that is this long, it is great when the ending is both climactic and impactful.

Charm City Kings has a commitment to authenticity that should be applauded, as well as fantastic performances from an all black cast, telling a story that has humor, emotion, and important lessons.

Watch it.
Charm City Kings Movie Starring Teyonah Parris, Milan Ray, Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Meek Mill

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