Saturday, May 18, 2024

“We Grown Now: A Nostalgic Trip with a Punch to the Feels

Blake Cameron James and Gian Knight Ramirez

Starring: Jurnee Smollett, Blake Cameron James, Gian Knight Ramirez, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Lil Rel Howery

Fresh from its “Game Changers” award win at the 2023 Toronto Film Festival, “We Grown Now” soared onto my radar. Thanks to my fellow movie critic colleagues’ urgings, I jumped in, and let’s say I’m glad I did. This film resonated on so many social and emotional levels that I found myself hitting replay for a second viewing. “We Grown Now” is a must-watch for 2024, a powerful story that deserves a wide audience.

Director Minhal Biag transports us back to the early 90s. The costume and set design meticulously recreate the Cabrini Green projects, from the clothing styles and hairstyles to the now-demolished buildings themselves. The details are so immersive you don’t need exposition – you can practically feel the lived experiences of Malik and Eric. While the projects might appear rough on the outside, for these young men, it’s home. Abandoned units and worn furniture become their playground, fueled by boundless imagination.

The scenes of Malik and Eric exploring Cabrini Green sparked memories of my own childhood. We all had those special places, transforming them into wonderlands through the power of imagination. This film beautifully captures that universal experience.

Beyond the applause-worthy acting, the film’s heart lies in the palpable love and unity shared by the neighbors. Having interviewed the cast alongside my African American Film Critics (AAFCA) colleagues, it became clear this camaraderie wasn’t manufactured. The warmth and genuine connection between the actors translated beautifully onto the screen, leaving a lasting impression that transcended the director’s vision and felt undeniably organic. This authenticity undoubtedly stems from the shared experiences of the cast, fostering a sense of community that permeates every scene.

Jurnee Smollett delivers a powerful performance as Dolores, a harried single mom juggling two jobs and barely making ends meet. Despite the challenges, Smollett portrays a woman devoted to her children, showering them with love and encouragement while navigating the harsh realities of financial hardship and workplace inequality. We see Dolores’s struggles on her face, the exhaustion of holding everything together barely concealed by her unwavering determination. Yet, she remains a pillar of strength for her children, and her love is a constant source of comfort and support, along with ith her mother, Anita played by S. Epatha Merkerson, who is also a big support system for the family. Smollett’s nuanced performance captures the complexities of single motherhood, the quiet sacrifices made for love, and the unwavering hope that fuels her fight for a better life.

Lil Rel Howery brings depth to the role of Jason, a single father determined to see his son, Eric, succeed. Jason’s tough-love approach, fueled by a desire for his children to escape the limitations of their environment, can appear harsh at times. However, Howery conveys the underlying love and good intentions behind Jason’s gruff exterior. We see the worry etched in Jason’s eyes as he contemplates his son’s future and the tenderness beneath his rough demeanor when he offers words of encouragement or a comforting embrace. Howery’s portrayal goes beyond the stereotype of the stern father, revealing a man wrestling with his own limitations as he strives to guide his son on the right path.

Newcomers Blake Cameron and Gian Knight Ramirez shine as Malik and Eric, two young men on the cusp of adulthood. Their on-screen chemistry is palpable, capturing the essence of a deep and evolving friendship. Cameron and Ramirez portray both the vulnerability and strength inherent in young men navigating their place in the world. Their shared experiences forge a bond that transcends circumstance, offering them support as they grapple with the challenges and uncertainties of growing up. Cameron infuses Malik with quiet confidence and a yearning for a life beyond the projects, while Ramirez gives Eric  a playful spirit and a deep loyalty to his friend. Their contrasting personalities complement each other beautifully, showcasing the power of friendship in shaping our identities and guiding us through life’s challenges.

Lil Rel Howery


The film’s pacing might feel deliberate to some; if you crave constant action or outlandish scenarios, “We Grown Now” might not be your best theatrical choice. However, the well-written story skillfully weaves a real-life event into the lives of these families, exploring their connection to their environment. The time spent with Malik and Eric allows us to connect with them truly.

Relatability and Historical Context

The director has spoken openly about her experiences growing up outside Chicago with a father pursuing [mention father’s profession, if relevant]. In the production notes, she also mentions the profound impact of young Dantrell Davis’s death in 1992 on the film and the Cabrini Green community. Seven-year-old Dantrell was tragically killed in a shooting. The film’s portrayal of government intervention and displacement evokes a powerful sense of anger. Seeing the residents helpless as their homes are destroyed is a credit to both the acting and direction.


“We Grown Now” is more than just a crowd-pleaser; it’s a film for those who cherish exceptional storytelling that tugs at the heartstrings, sparks nostalgia, and reminds us of Hollywood’s power to create truly relatable experiences. I loved this film so much I plan to purchase a physical copy for my own collection of cherished works. On the strength of the acting, directing, costume, and set design, I give “We Grown Now” a well-deserved 9/10. Don’t miss it – “We Grown Now” hits theaters everywhere on April 26th!

Dapper Dr Feel

Felipe Patterson aka Dapper Dr. Feel, #BlackLoveConvo & Entertainment | @fdapperdr Dapper Dr. Feel is a Entertainment journalist and member of the Critics Choice Association and African American Film Association.

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