Charm City Kings Review – Growing Up is Just Dreams and Nightmares

Charm City Kings

Taking a lot of inspiration from Lotfy Nathan’s 12 O’Clock Boys documentary, Charm City Kings showcases the different sides of growing up as a poor African-American teenager in America. These kids either rise above poverty to become something great, join a life of crime, or become a victim of the streets. The rebellious teens in Charm City Kings embody these characteristics and become a tangible metaphor for life as a black teen in this country. The film follows Mouse, a fourteen-year-old who desperately wants to join the infamous dirt bike gang, The Midnight Clique. He soon realizes that through the Midnight Clique, an easier life awaits him — but at what cost?

Director Angel Manuel Soto deftly weaves the storylines of multiple characters, while still putting the primary focus on Mouse’s arc. Every emotional beat here feels recycled, but the film repurposes it into something completely fresh. Soto also exhibits all of the highs and lows at the most pivotal part of our in anyone’s life. Mouse (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), Lamont (Donielle T. Hansley Jr.), and Sweartagawd (Kezii Curtis) each have unique personalities that complement each other so well, and the film is truly at its best when we see them together. As they’re roasting each other and chasing girls, you can see their natural chemistry onscreen.

But the coming-of-age element is only part of the authentic story that Soto wants to tell. As the temptation to get quick money rises, so does the risks. Living in poverty as an African-American is rough, and that’s what makes Mouse’s character arc is so authentic. Throughout the film, you empathize with Mouse and understand his desires. At the same time, you’ll also see why all the adults want to protect him. This is where the film touches on the impact of fatherly figures in Mouse’s life. Without his older brother, Mouse is torn between Detective Rivers (William Catlett) and Blax (Meek Mill). They’re on opposite sides, but they share a common goal of protecting Mouse from the streets.

Charm City Kings - Meek Mill and Jahi Di'Allo Winston

Yet the story does manipulate you into empathizing with him because he’s an animal lover with aspirations to be a vet. Of course, when you’re an animal lover, you’re automatically labeled as a good guy. It’s a cheap trick that plenty of screenwriters have used to get audiences to like their characters. However, it’s the performance by Jahi Di’Allo Winston that makes you fall for this character regardless of character stereotypes. Winston brings to life this likable and complex character and carries the film on his shoulders.

Blax is another three-dimensional and complex character as well. He’s the leader of the Midnight Clique, but he’s trying to live a straight life. If you’ve ever heard of the Free Meek movement, then you’ll realize that Blax and Meek are one and the same. Unfortunately, Meek isn’t a trained actor, and at times it shows. Yet the strength of the cast — particularly Jahi Di’Allo Winston — eases the cringe of his acting. Meek’s scenes with Winston are especially great as his connection with him feels natural and honest, and it eventually develops into a beautiful and powerful relationship.

Overall, Charm City Kings is a stellar coming-of-age movie with a fresh balance of comedy and drama. Through the combination of a relatable story and an amazing cast, the film highlights the trials and tribulations of being an impoverished black teen in America. Some rise above it, some fight the system, and some get swallowed by it. We, on the other hand, are witnesses to struggle thanks to Charm City Kings.

Rating: 4/5 atoms

Charm City Kings premieres on HBOMax on October 8.

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