Maalik (Curtiss Cook Jr.) and Naz (Kerwin Johnson Jr.) are high-schoolers and best friends in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and this day-in-the-life is about what you’d expect from two smart, ambitious guys their age who know each other well: they goof off, they try to make a little money for college (they buy and resell lottery tickets, among other small things), they argue over philosophical matters, they just hang out. But the stakes on this day — as depicted by writer-director Jay Dockendorf, making his feature debut — feel very low indeed, when they are, it would appear, anything but. See, Maalik and Naz are black. And Muslim. And gay: they aren’t just best friends but lovers, too. And on this day, they are faced not only with having their religiously conservative families discovering the truth about their sexuality and their friendship, but also with a confrontation with an FBI agent (Annie Grier) who has mistaken their furtiveness for something far more nefarious than fear of being outed. Cook and Johnson are really terrific: their Maalik and Naz are rather charming and fun to be around, and they bring a frank and authentic intimacy to the relationship; the actors jointly won the Best Actor jury award at last year’s Outfest. (The film itself won Best LGBT Film at the Nashville Film Festival.) But while Dockendorf based Naz & Maalik on interviews with Muslims in post-9/11 New York City, the profiling side of the story is oddly muted, and never rises to the emotional level that it appears to be striving for; I never felt the despair, frustration, and anger over the unreasonable attention. As a portrait of youngsters in a tough familial and social position, though, it’s never less than wholly compassionate and thoroughly engaging.
Like what you’re reading? Sign up for the daily digest email and get links to all the day’s new reviews and other posts.
shop to support Flick Filosopher
Independent film criticism needs your support to survive. I receive a small commission when you purchase almost anything at iTunes (globally) and at Amazon (US, Canada, UK):