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Yelling To The Sky BY LEE MARSHALL

Precious lite, anyone? A mixed-race teenage girl in blue-collar New York — with a violent alcoholic white father and a mentally fragile black mother — falls apart and pulls herself together in this ear- nest, over-emoting first feature by Actors’ Studio graduate Victoria Mahoney. Some strong performances and enjoyably non-

chalant handheld camera work cannot make up for one-note characters, dialogue that is often wincingly on-the-nose and a script which lacks tension or thematic resonance. As a director, Mahoney displays some of Ken Loach’s mix of social conscience and sentiment but she lacks his secret weapon — a talented scriptwriter sidekick. This is the sort of film one would have expected

to show up in Sundance rather than in the main competition in Berlin, and its presence here should fool nobody as to its commercial prospects. Too spiky for the Tyler Perry brigade and yet too

soft and Perry-like in its inspirational ambitions to really please the arthouse, Yelling To The Sky risks falling between two audiences. In Berlin it was being shared between the main competition and the Generation 14plus section, and there may be some mileage in marketing it as tough — but ulti- mately feelgood — teenage viewing. Though the film and its director undoubtedly

have a great deal of heart and passion, too many scenes feel like actors’ workshop exercises, includ-

n 14 Screen International in Berlin February 13, 2011 COMPETITION

US. 2011. 94mins Director/screenplay Victoria Mahoney Production companies YTTS, LLC International sales Elephant Eye Films, www. Producers Ged Dickersin, Diane Houslin, Victoria Mahoney, Billy Mulligan Cinematography Reed Morano Production designer Kelly McGehee Editor Bill Henry Music David Wittman Main cast Zoe Kravitz, Jason Clarke, Antonique Smith, Yolonda Ross, Gabourey Sidibe, Tim Blake Nelson, Tariq Trotter

ing the opening confrontation in which a gang led by meaty teen bruiser Latonya (Gabourey Sidibe from Precious) pushes 17-year-old Sweetness (Kravitz) off her bike and starts to give her a going over — until big sister Ola (Smith) comes to the rescue, laying on the upper cuts despite being in an advanced state of pregnancy. Both smart but emotionally damaged, Sweet-

ness and Ola live in a scruffy home in a poor mixed suburb of New York. Their father Gordon (Jason Clarke, good in a difficult role) is a hard-drinking Irishman who is not above hitting his womenfolk, while their mother Lorene (Ross) is a willowy, mentally unstable creature. Both the mother and Ola drift away from the

house (“Lucky you, escaping!” Sweetness tells her sister, as if we hadn’t worked this out for our- selves), leaving Sweetness alone with her father and at the prey of Latonya and the other high- school bullies. So Sweetness does what any kid of her age

would do in such a fix: she goes to the local drug- lord-with-a-heart-of-gold, Roland (Trotter), and asks for a stake of his stash so she can push prod- uct and gain kudos at her high school. Soon she has hardened up and attracted two

lieutenants from Latonya’s gang over to her side. Meanwhile Ola has come back, without her boy- friend (who hits her, naturally) but with a baby daughter. Eventually the mother turns up too, and the long, slow healing process can begin.

Nothing in the story suggests we are meant to

be anywhere else but in the present day, yet there is something dated about so many of the charac- ters and situations. The mother and father seem to have stepped out of an Arthur Miller play, while the film’s garish depictions of drug use have a whiff of opium den prurience. It all provides fuel for those who say social relevance and accuracy are more to be found these days in TV series such as The Wire than in the cinema. What the film does have is a certain New Wave panache in its inventive handheld camerawork and odd lurches from scene to unrelated scene. What it most singularly lacks is a feel for dramatic tension, which is oddly absent from a scene in which Roland and Sweetness are being chased by the police after a drug bust. Musically, Yelling To The Sky offers a mixture of

lilting piano melodies, hip-hop and Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now to not particularly inspiring effect. There is a lack of discipline in this, a striving for quick effect which is there too in the characters’ readiness to emote at the drop of a hat or the hurl of a plate. In addition to Clarke’s strong turn in the role of

the father, Zoe Kravitz puts in a believable per- formance as an emotionally battered young woman at an important crossroads.


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