A THOUSAND AND ONE (2023)
Starring Teyana Taylor, Josiah Cross, Aven Courtney, Aaron Kingsley Adetola, Will Catlett, Terri Abney, Delissa Reynolds, Amelia Workman, Adriane Lenox, Gavin Schlosser, Jolly Swag, Azza El, Alicia Pilgrim, Jennean Farmer, Kal-El White, Jamier Williams, Naya Desir-Johnson, Mychelle Dangerfield, John Aria Gutierrez, Artrece Johnson, Mark Gessner and Tara Pacheco.
Screenplay by A.V. Rockwell.
Directed by A.V. Rockwell.
Distributed by Focus Features. 116 minutes. Rated R.
There are lots of movies which have titles which give up very little in the way of hints of the plot. Even on that scale, the name of the gritty urban drama A Thousand and One is particularly inscrutable.
It is named… I believe… after the apartment number where a woman and her young child live in Harlem in the 1990s. Technically, the apartment number is 10-01 (tenth floor, apartment one). Still, it is mentioned a few times in passing that the dash has fallen off of the door. And that setting, while it is where much of the drama in their lives goes on, is not necessarily the cause or the even usually the central concern of these dramas. It is just a little sanctuary that eventually starts to fall apart and is being wrested away from them; much like many other things in their lives.
The woman mentioned above is Inez (Teyana Taylor), a hairdresser who spent five years in jail on Rikers and returns home to find Terry, the little boy she left behind (played at different ages by Josiah Cross, Aven Courtney and Aaron Kingsley Adetola). When she comes to believe that he is being battered in foster care, she kidnaps him from the hospital and they move to her home area of Harlem, where they live under assumed names.
Over the next ten-fifteen years, the family hides in plain sight. Inez gets married, to an imperfect but mostly good-hearted man named Lucky (William Catlett). Unlike Inez, who is uneducated and unrefined, but outgoing and aggressive, Terry grows up to be quiet, thoughtful, and extremely intelligent.
However, it turns out the Inez’ relationship with Terry is much more complex than even the audience is led to believe, in a way that can eventually tear apart this little nuclear family they have built.
Interestingly enough, never seen but often heard is a real bogeyman of New York life in the 1990s. Former mayor Rudy Giuliani is made into a stealth villain of this piece simply by periodically playing audio snippets of his news conferences and declarations in the background and showing how reality for New York minorities was nothing like what the ex-mayor claimed.
A Thousand and One is a devastating look at lives of quiet desperation and of people who got squeezed out of the modern gentrified New York. And yet, there is so much more that goes unsaid in the family which is even more cutting.
However, despite the outside forces leaning in on them, the relationship between Inez and Terry ebbs and flows due to their own personal choices, particularly a single decision that she made before he was old enough to understand what was happening.
The acting here is stellar. Teyana Taylor is heartbreaking in her cold determination as Inez, leading you to forget that the actress first popped into pop culture consciousness on MTV’s cheesy reality show My Super Sweet 16. All three boys who play Terry – particularly Cross as a teenager – keeps up with Taylor’s fireworks. Catlett also shades his performance as Lucky with much wisdom and regret and empathy.
The final plot twist is rather devastating, but it is not flashy nor unwarranted. It’s another of life’s complications that you never really saw coming.
A Thousand and One is a debut film for writer/director A.V. Rockwell, and the smart, assured way it is put together promises an impressive career to come.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2023 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 1, 2023.