Taylor Is A Powerhouse In Poignant Debut [Sundance]
Feb 27, 2023
Home Movie Reviews A Thousand And One Review: Taylor Is A Powerhouse In Poignant Debut [Sundance]
It doesn’t nail everything it set out to accomplish, but A Thousand and One is a breathtaking character study of perseverance in Black motherhood.
Teyana Taylor and Aaron Kingsley Adetola in A Thousand and One
Sundance alum A.V. Rockwell brought her stunning debut feature film to the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. A Thousand and One, also written by the talented filmmaker, stars triple threat Teyana Taylor as an unapologetic and determined mother ready to risk it all for her son. A beautiful examination of life in New York City spanning several decades, Rockwell brings her skill as a visual storyteller to magnify motherhood under destitute circumstances. It doesn’t nail everything it set out to accomplish, but A Thousand and One is a breathtaking character study of perseverance in Black motherhood.
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Struggling to make ends meet after her release from prison, Inez (Taylor) moves from shelter to shelter in mid-1990s New York City. Inez is determined to provide a good life for her six-year-old son, Terry (Aaron Kingsley Adetola), who spends his nights trying to escape his foster parents. Inez kidnaps and runs away with him so that they can build their life together. As the years progress, Inez and a now older Terry (Josiah Cross) rely on each other even as their family grows. Terry becomes a smart, yet quiet teenager, while Inez finds love from a past relationship with Lucky (William Catlett). However, a family secret threatens to destroy their livelihood, and the two must decide their future as a result.
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Rockwell’s poignant feature directorial debut examines the life of an African American family in a city that rarely works in their favor. A thought-provoking tale of poverty and gentrification, the director expressively reveals the ugly truth of survival and perseverance through the lens of a Black mother. Specifically, her examination of these concepts over decades works well to emphasize the hardships that Inez endures. And as described by Inez, “there’s more to life than fucked-up beginnings,” a sentiment Rockwell so courageously explores vividly and with the utmost compassion.
A big turning point in A Thousand and One arises that enables viewers to finally experience a sense of serenity within the story. Yet, situations like Inez and Terry’s rarely end that way, and that’s just the reality of single parenthood. Rockwell does well with capturing these types of uncertainties, playing her cards right with both subtlety and exaggeration (and with good reason). But through this method, her exposition exposes a heartbreaking reality in which many viewers will be able to identify. Yet, her storytelling approach may also justifiably anger others unfamiliar with the truth of a gentrified New York.
Within the seamless transitions of the different time periods in Inez and Terry’s lives, Rockwell works her magic in partnership with cinematographer Eric K. Yue to capture the spirit of 1990-2000s Harlem. The film possesses a vintage and contemporary appeal, which both celebrate the style and criticizes the renovations at the expense of Black livelihood. Together, with Gary Gunn’s classical score against the rambunctious sounds of the city, these components heighten the senses in real time, providing an immersive experience that is impressive.
Throughout the film, the script introduces various side characters in the story. These are moments when A Thousand and One doesn’t maintain the focus it needs. As a result, the second act of the film tends to drag, losing its grip on the most compelling features of this remarkable story. However, thanks to a powerful performance from Teyana Taylor, these stodgy moments are short-lived. Her dedication towards exposing various sides to Inez — enthusiastic, abrasive, and compassionate — is sensational, and there’s no doubt that her performance will be talked about throughout the year.
A delicate exploration of Black motherhood during an uncertain time in a changing New York, A.V. Rockwell’s sophisticated and gut-wrenching story is a standout from the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. The film was awarded the grand jury prize in the U.S. Dramatic category and with good reason. It’s a beautiful film about the power of perseverance and the resulting desire for a better life. Thanks to a powerhouse performance from Taylor, who serves as the film’s character study, Rockwell’s debut is sure to leave a lasting impression on its viewers. Indeed, A Thousand and One serves as an essential reminder that “life goes on” despite past and current mistakes, and the tribulations one experiences in between.
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A Thousand and One premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival on January 22. The film is 117 minutes long and is not yet rated.
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