Articles: "Where Children Play" is sobering, sorrowful, but ultimately uplifting




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By Samantha Ofole-Prince
Photos Courtesy of  RLJ Entertainment

Macy Gray and Teyonah Parris

Heartfelt, painful, exhilarating and, above all, truthful, Leila Djansi’s latest offering is a well thought out and largely plausible story.

The film stars Teyonah Parris (“Dear White People,” “Chi-Raq”) as Bellissima, a woman with a scarred past who is forced to return home and face her demons after her mother passes away.

As we meet Belle, as she’s preferred to be called, she’s working at a hotel as a receptionist in a minimum paid job, which she clearly detests and constantly shows up late to. She regularly has sex with her male roommate to avoid paying rent and is more than willing to use her sexual prowess to get what she wants.

When her aunt Helen (played by multi-platinum recording artist Macy Gray), suddenly shows up at her workplace to inform her of her mother’s death, Belle reluctantly returns to Compton, Calif., where she discovers her abusive father is now a bed ridden invalid. Not only is she still nursing her wounds from a heartbreaking and painful childhood, she has to deal with nursing an invalid she clearly resents and detests.

Leon Robinson

“Last time I checked, you are his daughter,” aunt Helen informs her in one poignant scene. “Your parents take care of you and you take care of them. That is how it’s supposed to be.”

BAFTA/LA winning writer/director Leila Djansi does a great job of portraying Belle’s faults without alienating the viewer or pleading for sympathy. While little about the narrative is surprising, the personal and honest way she tells the story makes it riveting, as once she introduces our protagonist, she then slowly strips off the layers giving us a glimpse into her childhood with flashbacks. We understand through these horrific scenes and images of the abuse Belle endured, what her childhood was like and why she has such an inbuilt hatred for her father and animosity for her family.

Brian White and Teyonah Parris

The beauty of this film is the score, the story and direction. Best of all, there are no false notes in the performances. Everyone is believable and real. Parris plays Belle with raw conviction and is ably supported by a well-chosen cast that includes Leon Robinson (“And Then There Was You”), Brian White (“Scandal,” “Chicago Fire”), Edwina Findley Dickerson ("If Loving You Is Wrong") and Osas Ighodaro as Belle’s supportive best friend. White plays a childhood friend and love interest while Leon is the ailing father and Dickerson is the mother seen through flashback scenes.

Though downbeat in subject and not always easy to watch, it’s a harrowing journey well worth taking. Sobering, sorrowful, but ultimately uplifting, it’s a brilliant, disturbing storytelling with standout performances —and clever enough at 106 minutes not to overstay its welcome.

The film is out on DVD

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