It's no small task to tell a cinematic coming-of-age story.
Just ask Rob Reiner.
Sorry, I know that was a bit cold. I still haven't forgiven Reiner for Flipped.
But, Wannabe? With Wannabe, writer/director Matthew Manson gets it right in telling the story of Daniel (David Bloom, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp), a neurotic Jewish boy who must win over his crush, Emefa (Chaize Macklin), by impressing her skeptical Jamaican family. Set in New York City in the early 1990's, Wannabe captures just the right tone in portraying both the racial tensions of the period, and innocence of liking who we like simply because we like them.
The short film is based on a feature-length project that is currently being packaged for what Manson hopes will be production this summer. I hope so, too.
Inspired by Manson's own childhood experiences as an out-of-place Jewish kid suddenly thrust into a school for children with learning and developmental issues, Wannabe inspires because it plays it realistically yet without any unnecessary heightened drama. Manson trusts the story, perhaps because he lived but more likely because he's an obviously intuitive filmmaker who trusts the power of authentic emotion.
In David Bloom, Manson has found the perfect young man to bring Daniel to life. Bloom's Daniel is neurotic yet inquisitive and, in some weird way, quietly confident. While the out-of-place boy is widely rejected in this school, it's clear the instant he experiences the different yet far more bold and brash Emefa that he's seriously crushin'. Bloom captures Daniel's endearing dorkiness, yet he also manages to capture just the perfect hint of edginess that makes you believe the entire story.
As Emefa, Chaize Macklin is a strong actress portraying a strong female character who it will be delightful to see come to life on the big screen. Macklin's Emefa is certainly bold and brash, yet there's a vulnerability about her that helps you realize why Emefa and Daniel would click.
Malcolm Jamal-Warner, who will likely be known for the rest of his life for his work on The Cosby Show despite having a Grammy to his name and his recent fine work on American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, is always a welcome presence and here captures the sort of higher truth of the racial tensions, truths that really existed on a plane higher than your usual 12-13-year-olds would comprehend, yet he also perfectly captures the film's warmth and gentle, honest humor.
D.P. Catherine Goldschmidt lenses the film with tremendous humanity and avoids any histrionic trick shots or playing up that racial divide. Instead, she allows the camera to linger on the characters and within that space between their interactions. It's beautiful and intuitive camera work that elevates Wannabe far above your usual coming-of-age story.
Manson is writer/director who has created over 900 commercials, branded web series and short films. A 2004 NYU graduate, Manson's a previous winner of Tribeca's Audience Award for short film and the feature-length script for this project won Manson a grant to help with the film's production costs.
A warm and winning film about friendship, self-acceptance and what it means to come of age in a most transcendent way, Wannabe is the kind of film that leaves you wanting more. Fortunately, more is on the way.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic