We Grown Now

Directed By Minhal Baig

Starring – Blake Cameron James, Gian Knight Ramirez, Jurnee Smollett

The Plot – Two young boys, best friends Malik (James) and Eric (Ramirez), discover the joys and hardships of growing up in the sprawling Cabrini-Green public housing complex in 1992 Chicago.

Rated PG for thematic material and adult language.

WE GROWN NOW | Official Trailer (2024) (youtube.com)


Films pertaining to uncovering harshly bitter truths about the world from the vantage of children is certainly nothing new, but there’s a nostalgic warmth and dreamlike lucidness to Baig’s direction that makes it feel almost autobiographical with lived-in believability, especially in the framing of Malik and Eric’s friendship, which drives almost the entirety of the narrative. In only her third film, Baig conjures a carefree exhilarance and fantastical imagination that gives this story feet, with two lifetime inhabitants of Cabrini-Green’s housing complex commanding its desolate settings and abandoned apartments with a speculative curiosity about the world from beyond, which neither of them have rarely experienced. Because the film is rated PG, it serves as the perfect excuse to follow things from their inexperienced perspectives, with occasional dust-ups with the law, gang driven gun violence and poverty creeping into their otherwise peaceful existence, but never with a permanence that puts a damper on the tone or radiance of the production. For that, the cinematography from Pat Scola constantly immerses us from the perspective of our miniature protagonists, with eye level framing that not only remains faithfully by the side of Malik and Eric, but also casts a corresponding immensity to Cabrini-Green’s apartment buildings that make them feel like ivory towers, which in turn feels like a misconception of the children to the realities that they’re rarely opened up to. In addition, an aforementioned fantastical element to the sequencing occasionally breaks the ice of reality to transfix audiences into a glow of imaginative lighting and immersive psychology, with dreams so lucidly dimensional that either of the boys could practically reach out and touch the stars that luminate their dreaming canvases. This is most effective with a sentimental meaning towards window drapes that serve as a safety blanket of sorts for the outside world that is constantly crumbling, with detailed sound mixing conveying the troubles that are constantly out of the reach of our depiction, but one that breathes endlessly as a chorus of melancholy from beyond that becomes just another ghost to the tenants who will inevitably live and die within its coldly damp and claustrophobic constructs. Speaking of chorus, the score from Jay Wadley is out of this world, and I mean that from a transformative certification, with streaking strumming of the cello serving as an audible heartbeat to the wonder and drama of the unpredictability of lower class living. What’s especially endearing to Wadley’s compositions is that they never feel depressing or melodramatic, instead inspiring evocative memories from our own youths that are held so tightly and familiar to the depth of Malik and Eric’s experiences with a world that feels like it’s constantly trying to separate them. Even as I type this review, I’m currently listening and entranced by the versatility of emotions that come from so many simplistic compositions, in turn certifying a level of class and poetic sophistication for the film that I truly wasn’t expecting from the confines of a setting as emotionally grueling as that of Cabrini-Green. Aside from the technical merits that permeate enhancement in the intoxication of the interpretation, the film is also tremendously blessed by amazing performances aplenty, especially in those from first time actors, Blake Cameron James and Gian Knight Ramirez, who inflict so much emotional maturity and chemistry towards the film’s appeal. What’s appreciative is how each of them elevates the performance of the other, where the film blossoms with heart each time the two are able to share the screen with one another, especially in moments of exploration both in and out of Cabrini-Green, where the two treat the world as their proverbial playground, with James’ endless charisma balancing Ramirez’s stoicism with irreplaceable impact towards one another. Aside from the youthful dynamic duo, there are also memorable adult turns from Jurnee Smollett, who serves as an executive producer on the film, and S. Epatha Merkerson, who makes the most of a supporting turn that could easily fall into background noise, if not for the wistful wisdom she supplants to the many thematic impulses that she dissects as the backbone of her family. Smollett too is a revelation and thank you to one parent households everywhere, with evidential mental and physical exhaustion that constantly tests her efforts, making her daily drive to support a family on her own feel like one step forward and two steps back, at all times. Because these characters are so grounded in humanity and authenticity by design, it’s effortless to root for their success in a place where hope simply doesn’t play into the equation, and without the hinderances of shallow melodramatics that follow most of these coming-of-age stories inside of child protagonists, the film is able to spend its time delving into deeper questions pertaining to the vitality of dreaming and the inevitabilities of change that come with them, which surmised thick feelings of inescapable emotionality in the same vein of my all-time second favorite film, “Stand By Me”. Lastly, while the film clocks in at a brief 88 minute run time, the pacing is surprising slow and patient with the development of its characters and their conflicts, but never in a way that waned on the dexterity of my investment, which grew stronger as the film transitions into a third act with lots of personal challenges to the friendship of the boys. We know where their futures lie with one another, we just don’t know how we’re going to get there, and while the climax is the compelling point for most movies, it was the lived-in spontaneity of life that I appreciated most from Baig’s direction, especially as someone whose vision and commanding gravitas far transcends her limitations in work to this point.


While most of “We Grown Now” permeated a breeze of healthy dose of nostalgia that was hard to look away from, a couple of underwhelming instances to the development of its intentions did stand out like a sore thumb, in turn leaving it difficult to go along with when compared to the rest of the film that was so enriched by realism. Most problematic in this instance is the occasional hiccups with the dialogue, which does evolve to precocious waters between Malik and Eric, especially as the delve deeper into the psychology of dreaming. Because so much of their character outlines feel grounded in the realities of child actions and interactions, the dialogue during these scenes feels a bit too on-the-nose and forced for my personal tastes, straining the documentarian-like feel of the presentation, which now took on spoon-fed sentiments. It’s not quite bad enough to take me completely out of the conversations that pertain to such bold ambition, but it never feels natural when coming from these particular youths, inflicting feelings from within them that never feel earned or developed as patiently as their own characterization. Speaking of characters, Lil Rel Howery is in this film as Eric’s father, but completely wasted in a glorified cameo of a role that never feels interested in telling his or his family’s story for that matter. While the film initially begins articulating Malik and Eric as integral equals among our story, the execution following it directly contradicts this idea, abandoning the latter half of this equation, which deserved opportunity in being forced to come to terms with his family’s own internal conflicts. Howery is the loudest of these injustices, especially since the couple of scenes he does have are every bit moving as they are nourishing towards the importance of Eric’s own upbringing, in turn leaving him a face in the crowd who only materializes when the film absolutely requires him to.

“We Grown Now” is a poignantly rich and adventurous tale of fear and friendship, and how the perplexities of the former can doom the unbreakable bond of the latter. With two breakthrough performances for the price of one, immersive values in cinematography, and a transformative channeling for the radiance of Minhal Baig’s most meaningful direction to date, the film steals your heart as the cinematic goodbye to a time of innocence and exhilaration that we can never get back, and in the case of Cabrini-Green’s haunted past, perhaps for good reason.

My Grade: 8/10 or A-

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