This tender coming-of-age film explores family and masculinity
While the word “bruiser” may be a derogatory term–it addresses someone with a reputation of getting into fights, as Miles Warren’s male characters often do in his debut feature–the director treats with compassion the film’s major players and their struggle against violence in this coming-of-age story exploring family and masculinity. Expanded from Warren’s short of the same name, Bruiser tenderly highlights conflicting masculine influences in a Black teenage boy’s life.
After a year at a private boarding school, 14-year-old Darious (Till’s Jalyn Hall) returns to life in his small hometown. His mother Monica (Shinelle Azoroh) gives private violin lessons at home while his father Malcolm (Shamier Anderson) works at a car dealership to provide for his son things he never had–something, in ways typical of a moody teenager, Darious doesn’t try to understand. The teenager is focused rather on the radio silence of his sort-of girlfriend Mia, his annoying penchant for being bullied, and his desire to stand up for himself in ways he hasn’t learned from Malcolm.
Enter Porter (Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes), an easygoing drifter quick to teach Darious his own masculine ideals. Soon enough, Darious learns Porter is his biological father, a realization that threatens the fabric of his family as he knew it. As Darious gets to know Porter better, his perspective of his family and particularly Malcolm shifts, as the teen reframes his experiences and perceived shortcomings as his parents’ failure to raise him in the correct way.
When Porter and Malcolm, both deeply affected by a violent act from their childhood, enter into a tense power struggle over their son’s upbringing, it’s Darious–and Monica, to a lesser extent–who end up caught in the middle. While it’s evident the fathers just want to love their son in different ways, Bruiser’s focus is empathetically centered on Darious and his needs.
The men in Darious’ life may take front and center in Bruiser, but the film’s portrait of masculinity is framed by the care and guidance of a mother. It’s Monica whose hand quietly picks up her family’s mess just offscreen, and who doesn’t have to be asked to teach Darious skills he’ll need to navigate the world–a world in which becoming a man often looks like becoming one’s father.
Bruiser’s treatment of masculinity is more complex and encompassing in Darious’ coming-of-age journey, however, which Warren details beautifully in this riveting narrative film. In addition to Warren’s careful direction, Bruiser’s greatest strength lies in its vulnerable, not-to-missed performances, particularly those of Hall and Rhodes.
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Verdict - 8.5/10