While watching Asante Blackk starrer ‘Story Ave,’ I kept coming back to my memories of Good Will Hunting. In both films, we see a mentor-like figure trying to teach a youngling a lesson in a way they would understand. We see a young man almost on the cusp of adulthood gaining wisdom from an imperfect middle-aged man. In Good Will Hunting, the underprivileged intellectual boy tries to disentangle the chaos in his mind with the help of a psychiatrist – played by Robin Williams. On the other hand, Story Ave shows Luis Guzman’s character playing a similar role in the protagonist’s life.

However, calling Story Ave a version of Matt Damon’s film can be highly reductive – mainly because of the intricate world-building by Aristotle Torres. You sense a keen understanding of the world it is set in, which translates into the emotional subtext. Asante Blackk plays Kadir Grayson, who has an inclination and talent for visual art. Sean Skemes Hernandez (Melvin Gregg) uses Kadir’s love for graffiti to use in his own half-baked ideas of revolution. Although there is merit to Sean’s anti-capitalistic notions, his methods of going on about them are not as well thought out as one would expect.

Kadir is at an age where he is prone to get easily influenced. His brother’s recent death and the absence of a clear father figure make him seek alternatives beyond home. Sean’s brother Maurice (Alex R Hibbert) acts as a catalyst in Kadir’s rebellious notions. Just as old as Kadir, he becomes a voice supporting Kadir’s journey in a risky direction. However, he is not an antagonist in Story Ave, nor is anyone else. The script makes us understand what these kids find fascinating in people like Sean, who take up so much space in their minds and, for better or for worse, shape their personalities to a degree.

In his pursuit of something worthwhile, Kadir ends up holding up a middle-aged MTA worker. The man – Luis Torres (played brilliantly by Luis Guzman), understands a possible root for the kid’s robbery attempt. In their further journey, he stands up as a solution for many of Kadir’s internal conflicts. He becomes a sort of father figure in the kid’s life and tries to bring him on a responsible path. Instead of letting Kadir spend his life on the path of crime, he sheds light on an alternative that can help him make use of his skills and talent.

Story Ave (2023) Movie Review
A still from Story Ave (2023)

Kadir starts to realize the different possibilities his life can lead to. However, the script understands that such a journey cannot be linear. So, Kadir does not embrace Luis’s ideas with radical acceptance. He remains cautious of all the knowledge that surrounds him to figure out what is good or not for him. That makes his journey a whole lot more believable than just seeing it unfold like a magic wand effect. By meeting photographer Gloria (Coral Peña) and her partner, Kadir tries to figure out where he wants to go with his talent. One or the other way, Kadir tries to find a purpose for his art.

The other thing that I admire about Torres and Bonsu Thompson’s screenplay is avoiding Guzman’s character to be ideal. He is just as fallible, sometimes repulsive, due to his vices. Although he provides shelter for Kadir, he continues to succumb to alcohol as an antidote to his pain and sorrows. The film keeps its humanity intact by showing that such mentors can also be fallible.

Besides, the script delves into how art becomes an extension of an artist as a form of expression. Gloria’s works showcase her understanding of their city based on her peculiar worldview. For some, merely the act of vandalism seems like a fruition of their art, whereas for others, the attempt to make a tangible change matters. What keeps us truly immersed in this subtextual journey are the performances of the leads.

Luis Guzman is phenomenal in his restraint despite being known for his comical cameos. After his similar role in Netflix’s You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, this role shows his range as a dramatic actor. There are scenes where his character reacts in a particularly loud manner. But he manages to give it a soulful touch. That keeps them miles away from any comical undertones. Asante Blackk, who also stars in this year’s Landscapes with Invisible Hand, conveys Kadir’s identity struggles through his earnest performance.

Read More: Flora and Son (2023) Movie Review – Another familiar John Carney crowd-pleaser that doubles down on the power of musical collaboration

Story Ave (2023) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia, Letterboxd
The Cast of Story Ave (2023) Movie: Asante Blackk, Luis Guzmán, Melvin Gregg
Story Ave (2023) Movie Genre: Drama, Runtime: 1h 34m
Where to watch Story Ave

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