Written and directed by Nadine Labaki
Starring Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw and Boluwatife Treasure Bankole
Running time: 2 hours and 6 minutes
Rated R because it acknowledges that drugs exist and a kid with a shitty upbringing swears a little.
by Benjamin Leonard, Best Boy
I went into this film knowing virtually nothing about it. IMDb said it was about a kid that was suing his parents for the “crime” of giving him life. All of this seemed to be represented with a mix of heart and humor and, I gotta say, this appeals to my brand of wry nihilism. So I was interested in checking it out. However, while looking up cast and crew info in preparation for writing this, I stumbled across a number of people bickering back and forth online about the social and political motives of some of the people involved in the film and some questionable things in their pasts. I’ll tell you, after twenty minutes of going down the internet rabbit hole of trying to see what was truth and what was bullshit in these arguments, I’ve got zero resolution and am merely more annoyed with humanity.
Having not known about any of this and zero context before viewing the movie, I’ll not comment on it here any further. And, honestly, I’d recommend you ignore all of that as well because, all in all, this is an enjoyable film that is relatively well done and highlights some of the harsher things in life that many people have to deal with regularly while others may be ignorant to the fact that they could ever happen. It shows a child struggling through a harsh life and trying his best to do right for those that do right by him and avoid those that could harm them.
So, what actually happens in this movie you ask? Well, it focuses on a precocious but industrious Lebanese kid named Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) and his shitty shitty life. First, we watch as his parents have him (and his siblings) acquiring prescription drugs, smashing them up, making a solution with them, soaking clothes in the solution, wringing out the water, drying the clothes in the sun and then assisting in smuggling the drug caked clothes into a prison where his uncle reverses the process to get the drugs and sell them inside for a profit that Zain sees nothing of. Instead, we go on to see him hustling various wares in the streets of Beirut. Then he’s selling juice that he hand-squeezes. Or fruit cups. Or anything that can turn a buck. And all of that is done around his afterschool job (Holy shit! He’s got time to go to school too?!?) of working at the landlord’s market in exchange for free rent.
On top of all that, he’s gotta protect his sister Sahar (Haita 'Cedra' Izzam) from his parents finding out she’s started her period because then they’ll just try to sell her off to the lecherous landlord. In a rush of trying to organize everything so he can get her out of town before that particular shit hits the fan, his parents have found out and already set the wheels in motion. As they send her off on the back of the kiddie-diddler’s scooter, Zain has finally had enough of this shit and runs the fuck off.
Zain uses the bus ticket he’d bought for Sahar and ends up seated next to the best Spiderman to not be featured in the recent Spiderverse movie, Coackroachman (pictured above). This cigarette-smoking badass clad in pink and blue says he’s cousins with that other one. Well, when that guy gets off the bus it’s at a Boardwalk-style area with all sorts of various things going on. A kid that’s used to hustling should be able to find something to do with himself here. He ends up meeting Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw). She’s a bathroom attendant and cleaner there. They form a friendship and he starts living with her and caring for her infant son Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole) while she works so that she doesn’t have to keep smuggling him in and secretly feeding him.
Problem is, Rahil is an Ethiopian refugee who’s in Lebanon illegally. She gets picked up by the authorities and Zain is left wondering where she went and caring for Yonas on his own. He goes back to his parents in order to get his ID card so that he can get out of the country with Yonas but they never got one. They never respected him (or any of his siblings) enough to think of him as a human that would need to be recognized by the government. Instead, he sees and stabs the old lecherous landlord (aka his sister Sahar’s new husband) and gets chased by the police.On the run, he leaves Yonas with a shifty shop owner that (unbeknownst to Zain) had been trying to convince Rahil to sell him to her for a while.
Jailed, Zain ends up in the same facility as Rahil and, of course, she freaks the fuck out wondering what happened to her kid when she realizes he’s stuck in jail too. But hey, what the hell are they gonna do? They’re both victims of a shitty system.
While in jail, Zain ends up calling in to a kinda dumb and sensationalistic tv talk show complaining about his life and unintentionally draws public attention to his plight. (Honestly, this is the only point in the movie where it was just too damned cheezy/sappy for me.) He ends up getting enough public support where he’s assisted in bringing the aforementioned case against his parents. He wins, gets out of jail and is kinda reflecting back on the shitshow he just went through when he surmises, “Life is dogshit.” Well, you could wrap it all up there as far as i was concerned, but they saw fit to tidy up all the holes. Yonas gets returned back to Rahil. Zain gets an ID card. At least the government recognizes him as a human. He smiles. The end. I guess that works too. It’ll make some people happier.
Well, that was a whirlwind. But there were some really good performances from the entire cast and it was paced really well. I would say my only major complaint was the choice for visual style with the camera work and the edits. There was just too much handheld work and choppy edits. It became distracting at times and could pull you out of the story.
I ended up seeing this the day before it got nominated for the Oscars (foreign language) and when I saw the announcement I thought, “Yeah, that makes sense. Way more than a bunch of these other ones at least.” Not that that's a ringing endorsement but, this tells an Oscar-type story that they’re gonna vote for, but it’s entertaining, engrossing and made well enough that I can actually respect the decision.
This just hit most theaters this weekend. Go see it for yourself. I think it’s worth your two hours and the ticket price. As a foreign language film, it’s probably not gonna hang around for too long. Give it a chance before it goes away.