Directed by Rashaad Ernesto Green
Written by Rashaad Ernesto Green & Zora Howard
After a few years of limited availability (thanks in large part to injury recovery), I wanted to make a point of seeking out a larger number of smaller, under the radar type films in 2020, the type that I’ve missed the last few years, regrettably. With 2020 only its second month, I already feel I have seen more than the last few years, and what a joy it is to see these underseen, underappreciated films. Premature fits that bill as a the major feature debut of director Rashaad Ernesto Green and a potential breakout performance from star Zora Howard. It is the smaller type film looking for its place in the world, and potentially finding its audience in the arthouse theaters around the country.
Ayanna (Zora Howard) is a bright young woman in Harlem, spending the summer with her group of friends before going off to college at Bucknell in hopes of being a writer. As she and her friends hang around during the summer, Ayanna meets Isaiah (Joshua Boone), a handsome young man who has moved to the city to pursue his music career. The chemistry and relationship are magnetic and takes off right away. But when a strange white woman shows up at Isaiah’s apartment one night, Ayanna begins to have doubts about what their relationship is and who Isaiah is as a partner. Their passionate love affair has surprising side effects, bringing Ayanna’s promising future into question.
This film is like a shot in the arm, mostly thanks to the electric lead performance from Zora Howard. It is a fairly standard story of a young woman meeting a promising young man and falling madly in love until doubts creep in to what her future with him and her future with her education might look like as a result of the events that strain the relationship. We’ve seen this film before, but it is a matter of whether it is executed extremely well. The answer to this question as it pertains to Premature is…complicated. Rashaad Ernesto Green and his star Zora Howard do everything within their powers to craft a immersive and interesting film for 75 percent of this film, but where it falls short is the last quarter, where convention seems to overrule the immense potential of the yarn.
What worked so great was the relationship between Ayanna and Isaiah. It’s the type of love affair that is hot and fast. I usually don’t talk about or concentrate on sex scenes (usually because their either boring or exploitative), but Howard and Boone’s first sex scene in Premature is extremely sexy, and the pair really communicate the passion and excitement of this young relationship. It’s surprisingly effective. And while that exploitative gaze I loathe creeps into later scenes, this first sex scene is a great example of the filmmaking Green is capable of in this film. It just never maintains the same consistency of Zora Howard’s marvelous performance at the center of the film.
What I take away from a movie like Premature is potential. The film is peppered with it from all creative contributors throughout. What this means is that the film is masterfully inconsistent, full of life and verve and greatness right alongside convention, standard and pitfalls. The film is frustrating for that reason, but also eye opening for the same. It makes me curious to see how Rashaad Ernesto Green will follow this up. It makes me curious to see what Zora Howard does next. It makes Premature the potential breeding ground for film greatness, but on its own, the film is just okay.