Written by: Ava DuVernay
Starring: Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Omari Hardwick, Blair Underwood, Beverly Todd
Following the death of someone impactful in the lives of many leaves everyone who knew the person in quite the peculiar spot. Moments meant for grieving get interrupted with trying to piece together the logistical realities of dealing with the aftermath of that person’s death. Inheritances to be collected, possessions to be handled, and plenty of heartbreak to make the process more difficult than it needs to already be. I Will Follow displays this process with the appropriate level of patience and care it deserves with it being a strong debut feature from one of the most important filmmakers around today.
Following the passing of her beloved aunt, Maye (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) must reckon with how to properly move on with her life. Having taken a break from her job in order to care for her, leaves Maye in the place of trying to grieve and handle the next steps in her life along with the other relationships she holds with lovers, family members, and everyone else in-between.
Coming onto the scene showing the wonderful trademarks she only continues to improve upon, Ava DuVernary staked her claim in the filmmaking world with I Will Follow. Not only does she prove to be a filmmaker who knows how to effectively process emotions, but she also does it with such a soft and warm touch. As her first feature directorial effort, she takes on a tough subject and one most individuals with loved ones will eventually face, their death. An inevitable and unenviable part of life and DuVernary takes us through the process and most importantly, the messiness involved with it all. We see this all through Maye’s journey and the way she becomes incredibly relatable but yet her own person speaks well to how DuVernay pieces together this story.
Maye’s journey goes from her aunt being all-encompassing in her thoughts to having to come face to face with reality once again. Those final moments, which get displayed in the film show the incredible connection the two shared, which only makes the death so much harsher to endure. Maye spending time with her aunt almost gave her a reprieve from everything else ailing her in life because her focus could be put in this particular basket. Now, it has been removed and she must get back with the program but with plenty of hurt and pain to go with it. Almost like the feeling where it becomes stunning the world continues to go on when you’ve lost someone dear to you as if everything should just stop to let you catch up with everything. Maye’s meeting of reality becomes an integral part of the story and the way she interacts with others says plenty about those around her in not the best of ways.
As a feature, there are some rough bits to the entire project as a whole with some of the dialogue not being delivered as well as it could have but it becomes difficult to be too nit-picky about this effort seeing as it’s a debut and DuVernay displays plenty about what will make her one of the most notable filmmakers in the business right now. The messiness that may appear on a narrative level becomes comparable to what occurs in real life, especially when it’s time to reconcile everything in Maye’s aunt’s life. This means Maye must interact with her cousin and daughter of her aunt, who re-enters the fray after so much of the suffering has already occurred. DuVernay smartly presents all of these feelings with the characters and the effect it has on Maye says plenty and becomes the entire point of the feature.
Although not a tremendous performance, Salli Richardson-Whitfield does a really good job in headlining this role and the complexities that come with it. With her sharing the heart and soul with her aunt portrayed by Beverly Todd, once it becomes solely about her and the journey with grief, she needs to carry it all very well in doing so. Every harmful interaction or one filling her with glee feels real and authentic to the feelings of this character and having her be the surrogate for the audience through all of this makes it all the more a personable experience.
A strong debut by every metric, I Will Follow displayed what makes DuVernary such a special filmmaker. Right from the beginning, she did not hold back on what made her flourish and the emotionally potent work she crafts here serves as such a treat to the audience. Every emotional beat DuVernay wanted to communicate in this feature lands with a soft touch, just as she intended and it makes for such a lovely experience.