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‘On The Come Up’ Couples Pitch-Perfect Performances And A Banging Soundtrack – TIFF 2022 Review

Based on the novel of the same name by Angie Thomas, On The Come Up is Sanaa Lathan’s directorial debut and does it ever hit. 

The story follows 16-year-old Brianna “Bri” Jackson, who seems destined for stardom. With rap skills on par with her late father, Lawless, everyone is expecting great things from Bri, and while she loves the music, she is still dealing with factors holding her back. Self-doubt has been a real thorn in Bri’s side, and her personal life seems to get in the way of her most recent rap battles. Bri’s mother, Jay (Lathan), is a recovering addict who’s trying to get back on her feet, but this makes Jay an easy target for rival rappers when it comes to freestyling in the battle ring. 

Jamila C. Gray as Bri Jackson in On The Come Up. (Courtesy of Paramount Players)

During one particular battle, Bri’s tested when her opponent mentions her mother, and she loses her cool. Instead of channelling her anger into something productive, she chokes and walks off the stage–a moment that goes viral, much to her dismay. However, when returning to school after the embarrassing viral moment, Bri is assaulted by the police security at her school over selling “contraband,” a.k.a. candy bars, which results in her suspension from school. With the support of her friends, Sonny (Miles Gutierrez-Riley) and Malik (Michael Cooper Jr.), her brother Trey (Titus Makin Jr.), and her aunt Pooh (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), Bri channels her energy into more music.

Bri then gets noticed by Supreme (Method Man), a talent manager who formerly worked with Bri’s father. Due to Supreme’s past relationship with Lawless, Pooh is wary of him but wants Bri to make her own choices for her career. This sets off Bri’s rise to stardom, but the journey isn’t one without some troubling bumps in the road.

Jamila C. Gray as Bri Jackson in On The Come Up. (Courtesy of Paramount Players)

The performances in On The Come Up are pitch-perfect. Headlined by Jamila C. Gray, the cast of the film shines brightly. Gray is excellent in her role as Bri. From her flow as a rapper to her vulnerable moments as a young girl trying to find her way and fix her relationship with her mother, Gray illuminates the screen. Gray completely embodies the role and lets viewers know it is her and no one else’s. Gray’s confidence in the part also adds to her chemistry with her co-stars. 

Randolph, Gutierrez-Riley, Cooper Jr., Method Man and Epps all complement Gray’s Bri perfectly. Through the happy-go-lucky moments to the emotional tear-jerking ones, everyone excels in their roles and what they bring to the on-screen dynamic of their characters. On The Come Up has some of the best castings in terms of a book to movie adaptations. 

Jamila C. Gray as Bri Jackson, Justin Martin as Milez and Mike Epps as Hype in On The Come Up. (Courtesy of Paramount Players)

Of course, we cannot discuss the film without talking about the woman at the helm, Sanaa Lathan. In her feature directorial debut, Lathan does a masterful job juggling the directorial and acting duties and never misses a beat. I’m personally excited to see what Lathan directs next. If it’s anything like On The Come Up, it’s sure to be another hit.

Sometimes, it isn’t easy to go from page to screen. Some narratives may change, or parts may be left behind on the editing room floor. In addition, it’s often difficult to please everyone, especially fans that love the book. However, On The Come Up is a win for book-to-film adaptations. With outstanding performances, great direction, and a banging soundtrack, check out On The Come Up if you’re attending TIFF or when it premieres on Paramount+.

Rating: 8/10

On The Come Up premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8 and will be available to stream on Paramount+ on September 23.

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