Written by: Joie Susannah Lee, Cinqué Lee, Spike Lee
Starring: Alfre Woodard, Delroy Lindo, Spike Lee, Zelda Harris, Carlton Williams
Growing up comes with the personal difficulties any child must deal with, which only gets worse when the household they call home does not have stability. The chaos further makes things difficult, especially if it happens to be a financial one. In Crooklyn, we get the opportunity to witness a tumultuous upbringing for a young girl and how she matures right before our eyes.
Living in Brooklyn with her four siblings and parents, Troy (Zelda Harris) navigates how to make it in her neighborhood. There are unique and annoying people that walk through the block, but she loves to call it home until she becomes aware of the constant fighting her parents have due to finances. These moments become integral as her summer vacation is anything but ideal.
As a filmmaker, Spike Lee typically tells very adult-centered stories with older people being the protagonists and along with a message aimed towards people who have lived more years. Crooklyn serves as his way of balancing a story to be equally effective for children as much as it may be for the adults watching it. This concept can be seen through the young girl, Troy, leading the story, but also the way it speaks on how one must grow up with the challenges life brings. Very digestible and it gets done with plenty of emotional heft.
Through the narrative structure, we see things from the perspective of Troy, but we also see the struggle of the parents. The father, Woody (Delroy Lindo), struggles as a musician while the mother, Carolyn (Alfre Woodard), works as a schoolteacher and tries to keep the household from falling apart. They have their fights because Woody’s musical career is not assisting in providing for the family. If anything, with the number of funds he utilizes for the musical career, it’s actively hurting them in a financial sense. Woody battles with his pride while Carolyn simply wants to ensure food gets put on the table for the children and the power turns on when they need it. A struggle parents never want to face, but it becomes a reality for this family and Troy can see how it wears down the people she looks up to.
Even with seeing the adult perspective, the story belongs to Troy as she attempts to understand everything happening around her. She gets teased by her brothers in childish ways but she does begin to look at herself differently as she grows up. Throughout the story, she learns about what she values in a home and how to step up when necessary to help her parents. Seeing the story from her perspective shows the powerlessness we have as children to fix the issues our parents face. It certainly felt relatable to me, as it might for others as Tory attempts to grapple with the struggles of her parents and how she essentially cannot do anything about it. Someone of her age cannot legally work and contribute financially to the household and she should not need to even think about it. At her age, she should be having fun and playing outside with the other kids in the neighborhood, but this reality works differently for kids with a lack of stability in their household. She cannot understand the pride of her father, where he wants to pursue his passion at the cost of fully taking care of the family. A childish perspective, which leads to the effectiveness of this story.
The emotional weight carried through this movie works majestically because it captures the pressures of the adults and the misunderstanding of the children. Tory goes through a gauntlet in this story where she learns about the harshness of life and you feel for her in that regard. Typically known for his bluntness in storytelling style, Lee actually uses a much softer touch with the harsh lessons Troy must learn. It gets packaged in a loving manner because all of this is new to her and she doesn’t know any better. The soft touch works wonders and further cements this film being geared towards children, as Lee focuses not only on the development of Troy but also on the power of home. Even with all of the issues she has with her hometown, nothing can beat being within a supportive community.
Delroy Lindo and Alfre Woodard provide their typically strong performances as the parents of this story, but the way Zelda Harris anchors this film as Tory demonstrates incredible talent. Typically, in films, we tend to gravitate towards the faces we know, especially if they give strong performances but Harris does such a tremendous job bringing forth this character that we never want to leave her side. Harris, at such a young age, manages to eloquently display the struggles of her character in such an effective manner.
A very underappreciated gem within the robust filmography of the great Spike Lee, Crooklyn tells a wonderful story where everyone within it needs some sort of help. Some need more than others but it all centers on Troy. Her development and growth come with a bit of trauma and some very important lessons this character will carry with her for the rest of her days. Such an emotionally effective films and one that shows Spike Lee using a softer touch to strong results.