It’s Always Slummy In Philadelphia
Explicit Ills mines everything you'd expect for a ghetto parable: suburban drug dealers, children macking like adults, single mothers struggling to raise a kid, social activism. But there are equal measures of surprising elements: ninja performance artists, devotion to organic eating, a little boy loving his bully back. It manages to avoid on-the-nose racial dealings, or pushing the black trinity of cliche hoodscape: basketball, Jesus, or rap music. It briefly touches on one of the beautiful hidden mysteries of Philadelphia: the many murals decorating the various poverty-stricken neighborhoods. Anyone who's ever ridden SEPTA, or cruised around the less historical areas of the city, has borne witness to these friezes depicting Rosa Parks, or pastoral scenes of children playing, or even just the Spirit of 76 that fires up Illadelphia. I thought the film would sort of act as a collection of photographs, snapshots of street living of all sorts, no link between anything except location and occasion. But Webber foolishly mashes his characters together at the end in the most embarrassing contrived and randomly shameful manner at the eleventh hour, to the detriment of any originality he'd been brewing from the getgo.
The cast is surprising, not just for their talent, but for how the newbies blend effortlessly with the experienced. This is no small feat when you're a nine-year-old boy stealing scenes from Rosario Dawson and Paul Dano. Usually, kids are the death of a film, but here the littleuns rule the roost. Which is what makes the finale so depressing, because it focuses on the adults at the cost of the children. Mark Webber fooled enough film students to merit festival cred, so he'll get another chance to helm a picture. Hopefully, he avoids slopping on the ol' cheese this next time out.
Brian Prisco lives in a pina down by the mer-port of Burbank, by way of the cheesesteak-laden arteries of Philadelphia. Any and all grumblings can be directed to priscogospel at hotmail dot com.