SXSW FILM 2011
By Don Simpson | April 13, 2011
Director: Victoria Mahoney
Writer: Victoria Mahoney
Starring: Zoë Kravitz, Antonique Smith, Jason Clarke, Yolanda Ross
Yelling to the Sky is the story of Sweetness (Zoë Kravitz), the adolescent daughter of a Caucasian father, Gordon (Jason Clarke), and Black mother, Lorene (Yolanda Ross). We first meet Sweetness as she is surrounded by a gang of neighborhood bullies led by the intimidatingly rotund Latonya (Gabourey Sidibe); Sweetness’ older sister, Ola (Antonique Smith), comes to her rescue and the siblings scurry home. (Presumably the encounter is related to Sweetness’ mixed-race parentage.)
Things at home are certainly no less dire. Sweetness and Ola’s father is a violent alcoholic who disappears for extended periods of time; their mother is a total zombie, incapacitated by depression and God knows what other afflictions. We sense an inner rage boiling within Sweetness, and it is not long before she starts peddling drugs in the stairwell of her high school and in front of C-Town. Sweetness’ new found bad-ass nature promptly earns her some street cred and a small crew of minions. In a drastic turn of events, Sweetness even musters up enough power of persuasion to bully Latonya. Sweetness’ principal (Tim Blake Nelson) tries to save her before things turn from bad to worse, but to no avail.
Meanwhile, Ola follows in their mother’s footsteps and becomes pregnant by an abusive boyfriend. Ola moves in with the baby-daddy, only to return back to her dysfunctional family’s home, battered and bruised with a newborn baby in her arms.
Following closely in the footsteps of Lee Daniels’ Precious, YTTS features one clichéd narrative element right after another. Mahoney’s portrait of a mixed-race family in Queens is definitely not a pretty one. Sweetness is given a plethora of family-related excuses to rebel; and it is not until her family realizes their many wrongdoings that Sweetness is able to be saved. In many ways, YTTS plays like an ABC Afterschool Special of yesteryear, especially in its neat and tidy conclusion. That said; the economic and socio-political messages embedded within YTTS are certainly not to be ignored. Mahoney has a lot to say and it is nearly impossible to not receive her messages loud and clear. For that, I give Mahoney a lot of credit.
The ambiguity in the time period is a little confusing and distracting to me. There are rotary phones, old televisions, vintage cars (including the old-style taxi parked in front of Sweetness’ house) and classic 1970s stereo equipment; even the soundtrack includes some vintage tracks from the 1970s. (It is also interesting that the characters do not own/use cell phones.) Yet, the costuming is purely modern (modern models of vehicles also appear); also, a poster of Barack Obama appears in Sweetness’s high school. Maybe I should just call YTTS…timeless?
To be perfectly honest, I really wanted to rate YTTS higher than Precious; but where Precious was technically sound, YTTS is terribly flawed. Besides the confounding mishmash of eras, the pacing and structure of Mahoney’s film is haphazard at best; I would have also enjoyed less reliance on traditional Hollywood stereotypes to propel what little character development there is.