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The inevitable lifestyle that should be quite evitable
There are films like Tiny Furniture that detail a spoiled and ungrateful demographic that has all they can desire but still has the nerve to complain about trivialities in their lives. Then there are films like The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete that detail a demographic that has nothing but the clothes on their backs, local acquaintances, and the motivation of survival to get them through the day. The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete is a bleak, bleak film with one heartwrenching scene after another that depict a frighteningly inevitable sadness that looms over the characters of the film like a dark storm cloud.
The film takes place during a summer in the projects of New York City that has been graced with a miserable heatwave. Where center on thirteen-year-old Mister (Skylan Brooks), who lives with his heroin-addicted mother Gloria (Jennifer Hudson), who prostitutes to get by in her rough neighborhood. Mister's only companion is a nine-year-old Korean boy named Pete (Ethan Dizon), whose mother is always absent and whom looks to Mister as an older brother. After Gloria is taken by police, the two spend their summer trying to evade child protective services and living life cooped up in a small, empty apartment.
Through these children, we get an intimate portrait of what it's like not to live in the projects but survive in them. The area is incredibly tumultuous, shady adults and ominous characters lurk on every street corner, and there's almost no hope of ever escaping or rising above this morose landscape. Returning to my opening paragraph, say people outside of the United States, who weren't wholly knowledgeable on the current state of the US poverty conditions, the income inequality, or the economy, saw Tiny Furniture. They'd probably see a large part of the country as affluent and ungrateful degenerates who don't know how good they have it compared to others. Now what if we showed them The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete? If anything, I think we'd break down any preconceived stereotypes that many people in the United States don't live lavish lives of royalty, but instead, day-by-day, struggling to survive, in the self-proclaimed "greatest country in the world." But this is just one of the several reasons why The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete is such a wonderful drama, bursting at the seams with stone-cold honesty and depictions of far-too-common hardships in the working class sector of urban landscapes.
At the center of the film is Skylan Brooks, who is the actor the entire film rests on. For a debut performance, Brooks could not have a bigger challenge, but he handles it superbly, painting the picture of a kid who is down but certainly not out. However, Brooks' Mister is undoubtedly vulnerable in this land, no matter the face he puts on. We almost consistently wait for the young kid to crack and breakdown, but he continues to keep on going through trying circumstances. By his side quite frequently is Ethan Dizon, whose performance is mostly wrapped in innocence and tender, young-boy geniality. He is a young boy who wouldn't hurt a fly, and occasionally seems out of the loop. But Dizon knows exactly how to portray this character with effectiveness so as not to make a helpless sidekick.
Frequently, the film reminded me of Alex Kotlowitz's There are No Children Here, a novel that meticulously detailed the lives of a family who lived in the Henry Horner Apartments, a former-public housing project in Chicago. The title came from the mother of the two boys the story focused on, and basically meant that because of all the young children have seen in their life - rape, murder, drugs, violence, gangs, among several other things - they were not children. They were practically adults because their innocence was taken at such a tender age they never had that blissful, childlike ignorance that almost all children have.
The children of the projects are totally different from the children of the suburbs, obviously, and writer Michael Starrbury makes strong note of that. While suburban children may ask their friends, "want to play at the park?" or even, "what did you think of school today," the characters of The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete ask one another, "is it okay to not love your mom?" and receive a response of, "you can't help but love her, but you can not like her."
Some will remark on the film's events as elements of emotional manipulation and desperate attempts by Starrbury and director George Tillman, Jr. to make us teary-eyed. I have seen many emotionally manipulative films in my day, and The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete doesn't classify as one of them because of the fact that it shows the reality of the situation in the projects. It shows what the news reports dare not penetrate. This film tells a story of survival by two kids who keep getting kicked down and tormented by horrid luck and a lackluster surrounding but persist on through thick-and-thin. Starrburry and Tillman, Jr. don't seem to care if you cry; they just care that you watch, listen, and learn.
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