Screenwriter Michael Starrbury stands on-stage after a packed screening during a Q&A session at the Milwaukee Film Fest, divulging on aspects of his and director George Tillman Jr.‘s latest film, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete. In answer to questions about the film’s influences, Starrbury (who’s a Milwaukee native along with George Tillman Jr.) states that there have always been groups of people struggling in the current day and age and whose stories are frequently ignored in favor of those of the privileged. With The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, Starrbury and Tillman Jr. provide voices for two of those struggling people–who just so happen to be children.
The film focuses on 14-year-old Mister (portrayed by Skylan Brooks) as he begrudgingly starts his summer off on a misstep after flunking the eighth grade. Besides having to put up with his heroin-addicted mother (Jennifer Hudson), Mister also has to spend his free time playing baby-sitter to neighbor kid Pete (Ethan Dizon). His single glint of optimism is a late-summer acting audition that he’s sure will be his ticket to a better life. However when Mister’s mother is arrested on drug and prostitution charges, he and Pete are left completely on their own. To avoid being rounded up by the Housing Authorities and placed in juvenile detention, the two boys secretly remain in their abandoned apartment for the remainder of the summer. As time goes on Mister and Pete develop a reluctant friendship, making their way through inner city New York to find sustenance while learning to rely on each other for both economical and emotional support.
Newcomers Brooks and Dizon are the film’s main driving forces–both scripturally- and dramatically-speaking. Though the film touts noteworthy performances from their adult counterparts such as Hudson, Anthony Mackie, Jeffery Wright, and Jordin Sparks, the young leads deliver the film’s strongest and most memorable portrayals. Brooks embodies Mister’s troubled and conflicted self with finesse, showcasing a range of emotions from youthful rage, to worried concern, to sorrowful defeat. Mister is a kid who can never get a break. If he isn’t struggling at school, then he’s out looking for food while trying to convince his mother to get off drugs and get a respectable job (to which she defensively responds by saying: “I’m not your child!”). If he’s not trying to keep Pete out of harm’s way then he’s trying to keep himself out of it. Dizon’s Pete is the perfect counterpart to Mister, providing the film’s comic relief through his naiveté and childish optimism. Dizon’s acting chops should not be discounted, as he is still capable of contributing drama to some of the film’s most heart-wrenching moments.
Tillman directs the film with a competent and steady hand. He does let the film dip into the realms of melodrama on occasion, but it doesn’t gild the film’s aspects of social realism. Tillman’s direction isn’t bland but it is straightforward almost to a fault; however, this direction does help to keep the film involving when its script becomes somewhat episodic during the middle act.
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete is a tale of how one can survive if they’re driven by their dreams and how friendship can emerge through common struggles. Though nothing groundbreaking, the film is noteworthy on account of its terrific child performances and its emotional wallop.
The film opens at AMC Mayfair on October 11th.