Movie Review: “Yelling to the Sky”Published by Clay Cane on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 11:30 am.
Review: There is a quiet anticipation for writer-director Victoria Mahoney’s semi-autobiographical film Yelling to the Sky. The indie drama screened last week at the 12th annual New York Latino International Film Festival, starring Zoë Kravitz and including Gabourey Sidibe in her first major feature film role since her Oscar nomination for Precious.
In Mahoney’s debut feature length film, there is an attractive gloom about her work but, unfortunately, the film struggles to translate to the viewer. Mahoney juggles a hodgepodge of stories, bouncing from one conflict to another, never allowing the audience to fully invest in one direction. Mahoney’s script falls into one of the biggest trappings of dramatic indie films: over-stuffing the plot.
Yelling to the Sky tries wrestles all of the following: biracial issues, domestic violence, bullying, unwed mothers, mental illness, drugs abuse, death and more. Every ten minutes there is a new plot twist to grasp, which often has no link to the drama in the previous scene. Heavy editing would’ve resulted in a polished, cohesive film. In moments, you can see the story’s potential, but it’s dissolved into a gumbo of plots.
The film begins with Zoë’s character and a friend (who vanishes after the first scene) violently bullied for being “high yellow” — Gabourey Sidibe’s character is the bully. While this might be the director’s own story, there was something uncomfortable about watching the “evil” dark-skinned teens abuse the “tortured” light-skinned kids without proper backstory to explain this strife. Yelling to the Sky channeled elements of the “tragic mulatto” Hollywood stereotype. However, before you can get offended or the film can redeem itself, the audience is thrown in a different plot. Sweetness’ sister is an unwed mother. Her father is an abusive drunk. Her mother has a mental illness. Sweetness likes to lie under the kitchen table. She is besties with a drug dealer.
Yelling to the Sky delivers solid performances. Even though Kravitz’s acting can translate as indifferent, she is believable as a 16-year-old (Kravitz is 22) from the gutter of American poverty. As the child of actor Lisa Bonet and musician Lenny Kravitz, we all know that the actress’ background is privileged, but she captures the sadness and vengeance of her character.
Antonique Smith, who played Faith Evans in Notorious, is clearly the stand-out. No shocker — the New Jersey native’s acting chops were once honed playing “Mimi” in Rent on Broadway.
Sidibe’s role is minimal, which is surprising considering she is an Oscar nominee.
Mahoney is obsessed with random images, bouncing between random edits that look like an attempt to make cinematic poetry, but weakens an already shaky film.
Even though Yelling to the Sky tumbles, Victoria Mahoney shows great promise as a director. The process of making an independent film is no easy task, so one can imagine the struggles she endured to get the flick to where it is today. Mahoney is clearly a filmmaking talent who needs a bit more polish, but I look forward to seeing more of her work.
Yelling to the Sky was presented at at the 12th annual New York Latino International Film Festival.