Writer-director Victoria Mahoney takes typical teenage drama to the max as she tells the brutal, but honest story of Sweetness, daughter of an African American woman and a white man in a predominately African American neighborhood. Racially charged violence, economical issues, and high school social standing all work together to paint a picture teens all over the U.S.A. in Yelling To The Sky.
Sweetness O’Hara (Zoe Kravitz, X-Men: First Class ) is the quiet teenager trying to make a place for herself where she doesn’t quite fit in. Struggling with neighborhood bullies, poverty, and a dysfunctional family, she struggles to cope but as her home life and issues at school continue to grow she finds herself on a path of self-destruction. With no one to turn to but her abusive father, drug addicted mother, and equally confused sister, no one seems to understand her growing pains, leaving Sweetness to figure out life alone in this drama.
The film opens up with Sweetness being knocked off of her bicycle and beaten by a neighborhood gang until her sister, Ola (Antonique Smith), appears and fights off the main attacker with a noticeable baby bump and fearless look in her eyes. She beats the male attacker until he is close to death and shaking, bringing strong emotions forward as new phases of life flash through different scenes. Sweetness witnesses her parents cuddling, fighting, and running in and out of her life. Her father’s abuse and issues with alcohol along with her mother’s drug binge disappearances bring her close to the edge. When her mother has what seems to be a nervous breakdown, turning her into a lifeless shell of a woman, Sweetness seems to decide that enough is enough and tries to find some control by rebelling against everything she knows. Selling drugs and finally finding a clique to fit in with seems to offer some balance only to have her life turned upside down again when she later witnesses her mentor and crush, Roland (Tariq Trotter) die after being shot several times in front of her. She begins to strike back at everyone who harmed her including her father Gordon (Jason Clarke,Zero Dark Thirty) and school bully Latonya (Academy Award Nominee actress Gabourey Sidibe). Sweetness’ character walks the thin line of being someone you love and someone you love to hate and she seems to deal with that same struggle within herself.
At times the action flashes too far forward and leaves key moments unexplored. While Latonya (Gabourey Sidibe,Precious) and Ola (Antonique Smith) are not the main focus they both play a significant role in Sweetness’ life and decisions throughout the film and those moments are cut off as soon as they make their way to the surface. Many of the racial issues that give power to the film also seem to remain unresolved and a little unfinished, but the emotionally charged scenes make up for what you miss in between. The authenticity of this film sets it apart and makes it worth watching from beginning to end and forms connections to real life and real moments.
Yelling to the Sky is an attention stealing, honest, and needed piece. The violence and societal issues addressed in this film are sure to wake people up and call many to action as it tells the painful truth of some of our youth.
This film ran the festival circuit in 2011 and is being released in theaters and VOD on Decemeber 14th. Watch the trailerhere.