A Thousand and One (2023)

April 17th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: AV Rockwell | Cast: Teyana Taylor, Aaron Kingsley Adetola, Aven Courtney, Josiah Cross, William Catlett | US Drama 117′

AV Rockwell has a strong premise for her feature debut that chronicles ten years in the life of a struggling black family set against the burgeoning gentrification of Brooklyn during the 1990s. And it looks fabulous with its inspired aesthetic sense and an evocative soundtrack. Sadly A Thousand and One is slight, overlong and underwhelming despite a confident central performance from Teyana Taylor who plays Inez, a bitter and difficult underdog whose only desire is to forge a stable family.

We first meet 22-year-old hairdresser Inez at Riker’s Island detention centre before she struts out into the big wide world in search of Terry, a six-year old child she left behind. Unfolding in a series of brief episodes the film soon establishes her difficult circumstances: grinding poverty and homelessness, Inez not exactly ingratiating herself with the foster family who have looked after Terry in the intervening years. The two are soon out on the streets of Harlem, Inez keen to start out again alone, before settling down with Lucky (Catlett), who appears to be a lover from the past. And the tale continues in this enigmatic vein, leaving us to fill in the gaps in a tonally uneven moody melodrama that aspires to be more momentous than it actually is, despite its justifiable pretensions.

Inez remains the same character over the decade while young Terry develops, played by three different actors (Atedola at 6, Courtney at 14 and Cross at 17). He is the most nuanced character growing from a hurt little boy – the film’s most meaningful scene sees him left all alone to amuse himself for the day – into a  thoughtful and intelligent adolescent, and eventually a disillusioned teenager.

Catlett’s Lucky eventually finds some soul after a prickly start in his new family, although he never really bonds with Inez (apart from in sex scenes) and the three of them somehow remain disconnected despite their fraught journey together. Taylor holds the film together with her vehemence and indomitable emotional power although her performance sometimes feels contrived: a little less attitude and a touch more vulnerability would have been welcome to make her character more relatable.

Oddly enough, One Thousand and One is at its most resonant in picturing the changing backcloth of New York’s gradual urban generation seen through a series of shifting aerial views of the city, brilliantly captured by DoP Eric Yue, along with carefully chosen archive clips from various speeches given by mayors Rudy Giuliani to Michael Bloomberg amongst others. This gives the film the ballast and integrity lacking in the story of Inez and her family. A worthwhile story then, in need of more depth script wise. MT


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