A scene from “We Grown Now.” (Courtesy photo)

“We Grown Now” written and directed by Minhal Baig emerges as a cinematic rarity, defying Hollywood norms by presenting African American characters as intricately nuanced and relatedly ordinary individuals amidst a landscape typically dominated by violent narratives and stereotypical portrayals. In this refreshing departure, Baig crafts a compelling narrative that invites audiences into the world of two endearing 10-year-old boys, Malik (Blake Cameron James) and Eric (Gian Knight Ramirez), whose charm effortlessly guides viewers through a journey of nostalgia.

Set against the backdrop of 1992 Cabrini-Green, Baig’s film showcases the innocence of childhood friendship and the simplicity of everyday life, deftly steering clear of sensationalism. Through heartfelt storytelling and authentic performances, Baig captures the essence of youth and the universal experiences that shape us, delivering a film that resonates long after the credits roll.

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Malik and Eric, though undoubtedly close, might not readily label themselves as best friends. They inhabit the same project building, where malfunctioning elevators are part of daily life, and deserted apartments offer them sanctuary and time to ponder existence as they perceive it. Reclining on their backs, gazing at ceilings marred by stains and cracks, they dare to imagine, almost bringing to life, a reality beyond the confines of concrete walls. Malik, the more imaginative of the two, adeptly invites Eric into his intricately woven dreamscape on occasion. Within Malik’s home, familial warmth envelops him, with his affectionate, hard-working mother (Jurnee Smollett), insightful grandmother (S. Epatha Merkerson), and younger sister (Madisyn Barnes) constituting a simple yet deeply meaningful unit. Theirs is a household devoid of pretense, characterized instead by genuine authenticity—a quality that truly sets this film apart.

Lil Rel Howery (Courtesy photo)

Eric lives with his elder sister (Avery Holliday) and their widowed father (Lil Rel Howery), silently grappling with the probable trauma of losing his mother, a topic left unspoken. His bond with Malik stands as one of the film’s boldest and most sincere elements, serving as a cornerstone of authenticity that elevates the significance of “We Grown Now.”

It’s easy to want to follow their lives as they wander Cabrini, go to school, and on one day, ditch school to go to the Art Institute of Chicago, where they explore its paintings. When they sprint through the museum, the other patrons are frozen, and we just focus on the boys’ joy. This is just one of the many scenes of normal behavior that Baig brings to life, and it might sound simple, but it’s not at all. At one point, one of them catches their eye. It was painted in 1935 by Walter Ellison (“Train Station”) and shows a segregated terminal.

This is the third feature film that Baig has directed. Her first was “Hala” (2019) and is about a Pakistani American teenager trying to carve out her life between her parents’ lives and her own desires.

Because Baig approaches every single frame with heart, we are 100% invested in Malik and Eric and feel an absence, of sorts, when we are pulled away from their private world.

The craftsmanship behind the camera is top-notch with sound design that proves very impactful. Simple, but it helps give the audience a place and time.

Of course, there is drama. It’s set in Cabrini-Green, in 1992, but Baig has already draped the entire film in a layer of suspense and tension; when something BIG finally explodes, it doesn’t rip the viewer apart. Instead, it helps us understand the nature of life and how things must change in order to have true growth.

At one point, the real world does catastrophically pierce the boys’ bubble when a near-army of police descend on the complex in the wake of a shooting, ransacking homes, and turning residents into suspects.

Ten out of ten. Not a perfect film but close enough.

“We Grown Now”

Rated PG for images of police violence.

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

Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes.

In theaters.




Available Asset+Platforms:   

WGN 4 1×1

WGN 4 9×16

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Official Hashtag: #WeGrownNow