Premature: Drenched in tenderness, sensuality and meaning

Ann Hornaday

THE WASHINGTON POST – Premature is a delicious slow-burn of a movie, the kind of coming-of-age tale that looks familiar on the surface only to reveal hidden depths of beauty and meaning.

Seventeen-year-old Ayanna (Zora Howard) has just graduated from high school and is spending the summer at home in Harlem before departing for Bucknell; the plan is for her to “wild out” with her high-spirited friends, whose playful, profanity-laced verbal jousting opens the film in a brazenly funny subway scene. Ayanna is bold in her own right – she asks for a young man’s digits on behalf of one of her pals – but she’s also introspective, writing poetry on the side and harbouring quiet dreams.

When she meets a slightly older musician named Isaiah (Joshua Boone), she puts her defences up, thinking he’s just another player. But he’s as sensitive as she is, and soon they’re embarking on a heady summer romance.

Drenched in tenderness and sensuality, Premature is brimming with life, with director Rashaad Ernesto Green brilliantly capturing the picnics, house parties and street scenes of Harlem that burst with teasing, talky energy.

The script, which Green co-wrote with Howard, is punctuated by thoughtful snippets of Ayanna’s poetry, as well as impassioned discussions of everything from the politics of black art to the compartmentalisation of women’s lives – blunt, disarmingly candid digressions that have the organic feel of conversations caught on the fly.

Joshua Boone and Zora Howard in Premature. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

As the story of the tensions between commitment and self-discovery, “Premature” obeys the contours of a drama centred on a relationship that could be forever or a seasonal fling; Boone and especially Howard are utterly convincing as people driven as much by their heads as their hearts, and they are supported by a terrific cast, especially the supremely self-assured actresses who play Ayanna’s ride-or-die posse.

As effective as Premature is as an engaging genre exercise, it’s even deeper and more enduring as portraiture that’s every bit as steeped in history, culture and social space-claiming as a Jacob Lawrence or Kehinde Wiley painting. It contains echoes of previous films: the swoony romance of Southside With You, the delicate lyricism of If Beale Street Could Talk, not to mention such recent dramas as Queen & Slim and The Photograph.

Like those films, Premature offers the audience a celebration of black bodies and pleasure, one that’s all the more gratifying for insisting that they need not be predicated on tragedy.

Premature might take its title from that sometimes awkward moment when two lovers meet in their lives, but for filmgoers it’s right on time.