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Movie Review: Kidulthood

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Boyz N The Hood was the perfect “urban gangster” film. It discussed the despair, the hopelessness, and the violence of living in the hood. Yet while you didn’t admire the way the characters in the film lived, you cared about them enough that everything else happening in the film didn’t matter as much.

It’s been a few years since John Singleton’s 1991 release and we’ve had a flurry of various knock-offs that have tried to emulate the formula of Boyz N The Hood. Kidulthood, made in the UK, paints a much bleaker picture of life in the hood. I don’t mind a variation of tone in the genre as long as there are some well-rounded characters. Kidulthood just has violence and self-destruction; no characters apparently are needed for that.

The plot centers around a group of teenagers all connected to each other due to the fact they attend the same school. When a girl at the school commits suicide because  she’s bullied all the time, the school gives the kids a day off to mourn the loss of the student. Rather than sit home and feel sorry for the family of the girl who killed herself, the kids go out for a day of fun and then later that night a party at a student’s house.

In between what could have been a simple day in the life of these kids, the males in the group (Amil Ameen, Adam Deacon, Femi Oyeniran) ambush and steal from a school bully’s home (Noel Clarke) a Game Boy that was stolen by the bully from one of the kids. I find it interesting that a bunch of kids being able to ambush a bully in his own home earlier in this film have such an issue overtaking this same bully during the film’s pivotal final scenes. These scenes however are almost typical of the genre, at least when it comes to the male characters in this case. The female characters generally have little to do aside from being girlfriends to the thuggish male characters.

Kidulthood with its particular females (Red Mandrell and Jamie Winstone) decides to have them be a bit more reckless. The twosome, in an effort to score some cocaine, decide to trade oral sex for the merchandise in a scene that manages to show the ironic humor in their decadence. I found it creepy, to be honest. I’ve never actually found scenes with drug use to be interesting. The scenes in which the girls snort coke just seem thrown in here. 

At one point in the film one of the boys, Trevor (Ameen), is asked for a favor by an uncle. The uncle and Trevor go through a series of halls and corners and come to a room with a man tied down to a table. Apparently the man stole something front his uncle, who deals in drugs, and he wants Trevor to cut him up with a knife. Trevor, in tough guy mode, goes through with it only to have the traditional epiphany that he is really a punk and runs off to cry.

I think if you really wanted to make this as dark as possible, it would have made sense for him to just go there and cut the guy’s face up. I mean this is supposed to be a “bleak” movie here. Let’s not throw a scene of redemption in when it’s not possible that will happen given everything else that he’s done.

This film, for all that it is trying to do, is a mess when it doesn't have to be. Boyz N The Hood, while dealing with violence and poverty in a Los Angeles neighborhood, never forgot its characters. It also had the sense to include one adult figure who was able to be the sage and make light of what was wrong with the lifestyle the characters in the film were leading.

Kidulthood, with all of its characters engaging in the extremes of life, doesn’t really have one adult there to say “stop”. There’s no one, not even a parent, who steps into the film at any time to say “What’s going on?” It’s almost like a set-up for a dark, yet cheesy 'kids in the hood' sitcom where the parents aren’t even present.

Maybe the lack of a parental figure, the fact that the kids were allowed to be adults when they weren’t emotionally ready, or the fact that I didn’t care about their outcomes soured how I felt about the film. If Kidulthood’s message is that ultimately a life lived in the hood is a short and painful one, then the film should make people feel just that — hopeless.

I found out about this film due to its Doctor Who connection. Noel Clarke, who played Rose Tyler’s boyfriend Mickey Smith on the show, wrote the screenplay for Kidulthood. At first I wasn’t too interested in seeing anything he did given that I didn’t like his earlier performances on the show. Later, towards the end of his time when his character became less of a thug and more likable, I changed my mind.

Noel Clarke did a sequel to Kidulthood years after the first one and even took the director’s chair in addition to writing the screenplay. Whether it was better than the original is something I’ll never know because I didn’t like the original to begin with. I would think a sequel would only work if people actually liked what came before and I can’t see much in here that made it sequel-worthy.

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About Matthew Milam