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(After creating a buzz at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, director Rashaad Ernesto Green’s Premature will be released in theaters and on video-on-demand on February 21, 2020 via IFC. Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not give just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going??)

Director Rashaad Ernesto Green (Gun Hill Road) explores young love, and its attendant drama, in his evocative sophomore feature, Premature, set in a vibrant Harlem landscape filled with ambition and creativity. When Ayanna (played by Green’s co-writer, Zora Howard), fresh out of high school and ready for new horizons at Bucknell University, meets the twentysomething Isaiah (Joshua Boone, Wheels), a handsome aspiring music producer, she is initially wary of romance. The guys in her usual circle are interested primarily in sex (without commitment), and with college imminent, why risk her heart on something ephemeral? Soon, however, she falls hard, as does he, and suddenly what was but a fling becomes more than a detour on the way to maturity. Will Ayanna – Yanni to her friends – switch gears and stay in New York, or will her dreams of becoming a writer prove stronger than passion?

That’s the question in this powerful meditation on the push and pull of desire and intellect. Along the way, Green examines equally important topics such as race and gender, as well as art and politics. Howard is a spirited partner, her words lifting Yanni beyond the frequent superficiality of late adolescence into the realm of adulthood. There can be serious repercussions to taking chances in this life, but as our protagonists climb the perilous peaks of a budding relationship, the potential rewards loom great. We root for them to succeed, even as we fear they might not.

Shot in 16mm, Premature brings a visual texture that is lately lacking in most cinematic images. From the very first scenes where the grain and scratches flicker across the screen, we are pulled into the urban landscape, a vista that includes not only subways, streets and apartment buildings, but also the gorgeous shorelines of the Hudson and Harlem Rivers. The world comes alive around Yanni and Isaiah as their ardor heats up and their wits interact. When their love soars, we are buoyed with them; when it hits a snag, we fall down, too.

Part of the film’s appeal, beyond the moving performances and dialogue, is how Green and Howard take initially small stakes and transform them into actions of earth-shattering consequence. The old adage “nothing ventured, nothing gained” holds more than true here, both for the movie and the people within it. Yes, love hurts, but without it, what are we?

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

  • vc

    I saw this in the theater, the 16mm reminds me of the good old days. Good story, good actors, good execution.

    March 13, 2020
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