A Romance at the Wrong Time
Director Rashaad Ernesto Green introduces us to Ayanna (Zora Howard), a high school senior riding the subway home to Harlem. At first, we do not that realize she’s with friends, she seems to be alone with her thoughts, but she’s thinking of them. She sees a guy on the other end of the car looking at them and she takes matters into her own hands when he’s too shy to approach, making sure she gets his phone number for her friend. She’ll never be the one to call him herself; she is good at having guys’ numbers.
Howard co-wrote “Premature” with Green. Ayanna never has to speak about her distrust of men; we see it everywhere from her mother cuddling up with a different guy on their couch depending on the day or her friend T, caring for a baby with no father around. Ayanna will soon be at college at Bucknell, so it’s easy for her, at first, to avoid the advances of Isaiah (Joshua Boone), a handsome and thoughtful friend of a friend who has just arrived in Harlem, but when they meet again at a laundromat but his persistence and charm wear her down.
In one gorgeous scene as night turns into morning, Isaiah asks her to stay and we see her thoughts on her. It is the first time she hears that she did not have to go and we see that she thinks she can trust him. She surrenders to what she feels rather than what she suspects the end result could be and this is quite a moment. “Premature” lets us know early that its sympathies are totally with Ayanna. Although we worry that she looks for reasons to protect herself and misinterprets Isaiah’s work with a singer as a music producer for flirting. She keeps some things from him that he might be able to ease her mind about, the film rather shows how her instincts can serve her well just as much as they can hurt her happiness.
Howard is amazing in the part. She projects a Bronx bravado that’s been Ayanna’s shield as she figures out who she wants to be. Boone is also excellent— he is smooth and sensitive enough to be a compelling enough reason for her to get rid of all her plans, yet we see his nerves in unexpected ways. The screenplay is both tender and alive is both timeless and relevant for today in its observations of what possibilities there are for the pair romantically and otherwise as well as what stands in their way. While the future isn’t promised, this film makes it feel like anything is possible for those who make it.
When Ayanna meets Isaiah everything changes for her. She’s in love. She deals with her friends, her love and her family and when certain things happen that prove to be life-changing that’s yet something else for Ayanna to deal with.
The script takes place in the different days of Ayanna and the story works through some of its potential melodrama with finesse and truth. Some of the developments feel like normal affectations of Ayanna’s most dramatic summer yet.
As we move from one major life experience to the next, Green and Howard are the crucial forces that make “Premature” feel so wise as it tells its story of coming-of-age. The charisma comes from the film’s lived-in moments, scenes that are filled with Ayanna’s friends joking with each other, or show Ayanna finding ways to take on the world’s latest new adventure. While this is a film about love, it is also about age, opportunity and timing.