Sanaa Lathan’s directorial debut shines

(from left) Jamila C. Gray, Justin Martin and Mike Epps star in On The Come Up.

(from left) Jamila C. Gray, Justin Martin and Mike Epps star in on the climb.
Photo: Paramount+

From its earliest moments, there is a comforting familiarity in on the climb, an animated and vibrant coming-of-age film that follows a fictional teen rapper who is forced to choose between her identity and her career after achieving overnight fame online. But while that familiarity is present in everything from the protagonist’s soft voiceover telling her story like a fairy tale to the common hallways of your typical high school, there’s also an undeniable authenticity in the confident directorial debut of actress-turned-director Sanaa Lathan. I like it The hate you givealso adapted from a bestselling book by Angie Thomas, on the climbThe protagonist of is a fully realized, complex and resilient black girl, this time one who puts her stamp on a field mostly associated culturally with men.

The 16-year-old in question is talented rapper Bri (remarkable newcomer Jamila C. Gray), who has a lot on her shoulders between her studies, the limited financial resources of her single mother Jay (Lathan herself), and the towering legacy of his late father, an iconic emcee named Lawless who was the victim of senseless gun violence just as he was beginning to reap the rewards of his burgeoning career. Subsequently, Bri was forced to grow up faster than she was ready for, especially after her mother disappeared to deal with drug addiction. She and Jay have reconciled, but unresolved issues create an underlying tension that insightful screenwriter Kay Oyegun keeps simmering between them.

All of these elements may seem cliché at first, especially when Jay (briefly) disapproves of Bri following the same profession that caused her husband’s death. But Oyegun and Lathan treat the material with poise and sincerity, making Bri’s journey a rich one worth undertaking as she competes in a local battle rap scene and eventually begins to yearn for bigger achievements outside her amateur activities. Also, she faces roadblocks at a school with diversity initiatives that seem progressive, but whose administrators show her true colors by failing to discipline a security officer who assaults and handcuffs Bri for selling candy at school.

However, Bri somehow manages to stay above the fray, especially with her mentor Aunt Pooh (a scene-stealing Da’Vine Joy Randolph) on the side, and her childhood friend-turned-interest. romantic Malik (Michael Cooper Jr.) in the other. But he soon faces a more serious dilemma after Bri’s father’s former manager, now a posh business tycoon named Supreme (Cliff “Method Man” Smith), comes up with a lucrative opportunity to capitalize on his natural way with words. and rhymes. .

on the rise | Official Trailer | Paramount+

Written by Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist Rapsody, who provides the lyrics and poetic rhymes for the entire film, Bri’s song becomes a viral sensation. But do his fictional gangster themes of hers really represent Bri as an artist and as a person? Or is integrity a luxury Bri shouldn’t worry about when even a smidge of success gives her and her mother more financial breathing room than ever before?

The answer to all the questions of being a sold out is, of course, obvious, and the canvas around Bri sometimes gets cluttered to the extreme. But a committed group of stunning actors keeps viewers constantly engaged until on the climb comes to its predictable life lessons. In particular, the parent-teenage chemistry between Lathan and Gray, which is marked by both love and conflict, is especially noteworthy.

As a wily performer of resolute characters, your career-oriented accountant who unexpectedly finds love in the underrated Something new especially comes to mind: Lathan underscores Jay’s regrets and parents’ ambitions with gut-wrenching shock. Gray more than matches her reflexivity with Bri’s vulnerability, hidden behind a tough facade. Together, they elevate this adaptation from competent to compelling, smoothing out some of the film’s harsher aspects with a smooth, upbeat take that makes one not only hopeful for Bri, but for Lathan’s next film as director.

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