Film Fest 919 Review: ‘Premature’ Sees Summer Love With Poetic Realism

Film Fest 919: Coming of age love stories are as old as the medium itself. Cinema is littered with these tales, in all shapes and sizes. So, to stand out, a movie either needs to have a creative twist on narrative or to traverse well-worn territory with some flair. The Film Fest 919 offering “Premature” does the latter quite admirably. A calling card for its director and a potential launching pad for its romantic leads, there’s a lot to like about this one. Even if you think you’ve seen it all in regards to independent films like this, that won’t be the case at all.

“Premature” undeniably exists within familiar romantic drama territory, but a keen sense of realism and visual style helps set it apart. Filmmaker Rashaad Ernesto Green has a lyrical script, a sure hand behind the camera, and the desire to tell a realistic story. Even when the plot gets bogged down in melodrama, it’s still visceral in its verisimilitude. A true New York tale, it exists in the real world, even if the story being told is a fictional one.

Set in Harlem during one eventful summer, seventeen-year-old Ayanna (Zora Howard) was planning to hang out with friends before going to college. Then, she meets the handsome and mysterious older man in Isaiah (Joshua Boone), a composer grinding his way in the business. Isaiah is polite, respectful, and immediately smitten with her. She’s curious about him, but more guarded with her emotions. Slowly, however, they fall in love, turning her world upside down. For her, it’s young love, while for him, it may be something more profound. Or, could it be the inverse?

As the relationship between Ayanna and Isaiah develops, various factors brew within. There’s an ex-girlfriend, jealousy, issues with friends, and even one potentially life-altering event. These elements strain the two, ultimately putting Ayanna on a new path as she gets set for adulthood. Both characters evolve, but it’s always clear that this is Ayanna’s story, from start to finish.

Both of the main performances are exquisite. Joshua Boone and Zora Howard are pitch-perfect, immediately investing you in their pairing. Boone is driven and personable, the sort of young man who anyone would think has a chance to be something special. Howard is presenting a more restrained character, at least initially, though one just as talented in her own way. Combined, they make for a realistic pairing, able to capture dramatic lightning in a bottle. The narrative leans toward Howard, ultimately giving her more to do, but both turn in high-quality work, for sure.

Co-writer/director Rashaad Ernesto Green (who penned the film with his leading lady Howard), has a keen ear for realistic dialogue. Mixed with his artist filmmaking, “Premature” has style and a strong sense of self. The script loves music and poetry, frequently bringing that into play, along with sparkling dialogue. Green’s direction also is at its best during the numerous sex scenes, which utilize close-ups to strike the urgency of their lovemaking, as well as the tender exploration of new bodies. Though not as large in scale as “If Beale Street Could Talk,” there are some similarities to be found, and that’s a compliment to Green.

Anyone who appreciates a well-done indie romantic drama will be moved by “Premature.” Plenty of Film Fest 919 titles are bigger this year, but not many have the emotional heft of this one. Keep an eye on Green, as he’s a storyteller to watch out for. If this is a hint at what’s to come, he could well be one of the next breakout indie filmmakers.

“Premature” will be distributed by IFC Films but has yet to set a release date.

GRADE: (★★)