While Kalani (JoiStarr) works hard in school with a desire to get into Yale, the actions of her family and friends threaten to keep her contained within Harlem as she struggles to push against the world that’s holding her back.
Director, Robert Rippberger’s film is at its strongest when it hones in on Kalani and her personal struggles. Strive touches upon her endeavour to uphold her life at school, where she is ostracised and singled out based on the colour of her skin and her social standing. Sadly, these moments seem fleeting in the 83-minute runtime, with the lion’s share of the narrative is fully submerged in Kalani’s family dynamic, which is far less engaging and begins to test the patience of its audience after a while.
Throughout Strive, I desperately wanted the film to explore the themes it alludes to in the establishing scenes. To have the courage to champion Kalani’s story on its own merits without weighing it down with melodrama. JoiStarr is a great actress but we only get a frustratingly meagre taste of that. She has a commanding screen presence in each scene but there are so many superfluous elements thrown into the mix that you lose that brilliance intermittently.
Where this could have been an inspirational story, focusing on the plight of this young, bright, black teenage girl and the racial and class-based adversities she faces, the narrative suffers through a whistle-stop tour of clichés. Picture an entire year of soap opera plots in under 85 minutes with each one detracting from the seed of a wonderful story.
There are some standout elements to Strive that offer an enticing glimpse at the future for some of its actors. We get three tender scenes with Danny Glover as tutor (and confidant) Mr. Rose with these brief pauses in the cycle of onscreen suffering seeming like islands in which I wanted the film to vacation.
These moments were truly touching, with Glover and JoiStarr radiating positive energy that the rest of the piece was lacking. In a movie touching upon a full bingo card of melodramatic plot threads, the father/ daughter, teacher/ student, friendship dynamic was screaming to be explored further.
Strive will be released later this year.
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