"A Thousand and One" takes motherhood to extremes
A Thousand and One
Starring Teyana Taylor, Josiah Cross, Aven Courtney, Aaron Kingsley Adetola, Will Catlett and Adriane Lenox. Written and directed by A.V. Rockwell. Now playing at Toronto theatres. 117 minutes. PG
⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of 4)
A.V. Rockwell's hard-fought motherhood drama "A Thousand and One," her debut feature and winner of the U.S. Dramatic Competition Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2023, is slow to boil — but boil it surely does.
Singer/actor Teyana Taylor twitches like a raw nerve as Inez, 22, a determined single mom in the New York City of 1994. Fresh out of prison, she discovers that even being a hairdresser is hard if you have a criminal record. She claims she's trying to "stay out of trouble," but she rashly decides that her six-year-old son, Terry (Aaron Kingsley Adetola), should be with her rather than in the uncaring foster home that housed him while she was in jail.
Without legal sanction or anything more than an affirmative "Yeah" from Terry, Inez takes the child with her to Harlem, moving in with a friend and her mother. They'll later find a place of their own with the unit number of the film's title.
So begins a tale of motherhood taken to extremes, one that we'll follow over the next 11 years, with long sections set in 2001 and 2005. Aven Courtney plays Terry at age 13 in the 2001 segment; Josiah Cross plays him at 17 in 2005. Comparisons with the taciturn youths and three-way narrative of "Moonlight" are not unwarranted.
Mother and son struggle to build a life together, a situation mirrored by a rapidly gentrifying (and alienating) New York. Enter Lucky (Will Catlett), a former boyfriend of Inez's and fellow ex-felon. He's a potential father figure, although not inclined to be a dad: "I didn't sign up for this shit." Money woes and the threat of eviction exacerbate tensions.
Inez never loses her grim resolve, even after Terry learns a life-altering truth about his circumstances.
"I fucked up," Inez tells Terry, "but life goes on."
Taylor is terrific in a role that doesn't seek our sympathy and rarely commands it. The three kids who play her son over the years, especially Josiah Cross, truly seize the heart. An excellent '90s hip-hop soundtrack directs the flow. 🌓