IF NOT NOW, WHEN?— 3 STARS
The majority of movie audiences prefer their happy endings. Too often, screenplays are written with an exorbitant magic eraser, one stronger than anything made by Mr. Clean, to make sure any unsightly tragic blemishes are wiped clean in time for the credits when people go home. Savvy moviegoers know real-life drama isn’t that easy to erase and true happiness is far more difficult to earn, rather than luck into. Actress turned filmmaker Tamara Bass shows that she is someone who understands that reality. On that account, her film If Not Now, When? is an uncommon movie that tempers the illusions of automatic bliss. It opens on January 5th from Vertical Entertainment on VOD platforms.
Tyra, Patrice, Deidre, and Suzanne were tight as teenagers with big dreams. Youthful dalliances ended when Tyra gave birth to a baby daughter at the age of 18, greatly altering the potential path for success she sought. The trauma of that experience also weakened her close friendships. Fast-forward 15 years and Tyra (co-director Meagan Good, also on-screen right now in Monster Hunter) is tailspinning with an addiction to pain medication that brings out volatile choices that endanger herself, her boyfriend Max (Six cast member Joel Schmid), and her daughter Jillian (Lexi Underwood of Little Fires Everywhere). The three others return to get Tyra committed into rehab at Max’s urging.
While they’re reunited for Tyra and Jillian, each are facing their own turning points at home. The calm one, Deidre (Meagan Holder of Pitch), is a dance choreographer and fellow single mother considering getting back together with her ex (End of Watch’s McKinley Freeman). Suzanne (Mekia Cox of The Rookie and Chicago Med) looks to be the most successful of the quartet living in a mansion and married to a former football star (Blindspotting’s Joe Chaffin). Lastly, Patrice (Bass) is now a divorced nurse who has taken Jillian in while romancing a co-worker (fellow Six cast member Edwin Hodge).
LESSON #1: YOUR ARE NOT YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES— Tyra sternly denies her problem and the program goals mentored by Lorna (seasoned actress Valarie Pettiford of Half & Half fame). Therapy, however, is part of the process. Lorna contends often “you are not your circumstances,” putting more onus on choices connected to responsibilities that led to faults. Such is well said. While this insight is being massaged into Tyra, all four ladies have their fears and adversities that bring challenge to their livelihoods.
LESSON #2: GET IT ALL OUT IN THE OPEN— One thing is for certain, no one is bowing out. Best friends can and should be the most available sounding boards for people. These women are bound by their inseparable pact. Their closeness grants them the leeway to air out grievances and blunt truths to those among them that need to hear either. Thinly filtered, just as they should be, the four principal actresses dive very well into those confrontational and bonding moments with all the frankness in the world.
If Not Now, When? is an admirable collaboration for this collection of steady TV talents stepping up to a larger canvas. Meagan Good’s Tyra may have the deepest wound for cinematic triage, but Tamara Bass and Pieces of a Woman co-writer Ansuman Bhagat give depth to all four ensemble members without piling some forced man-hating girl power. It would be so easy, especially for the usual movie magic eraser, to have all of the character’s problems be more the fault of someone or something else. Instead, these characters wear their flaws in an unafraid fashion, and the actresses exude an internal empowerment to get the vital atonement going right.
LESSON #3: HUGS ARE ONLY THE BEGINNING— Circle back one more time to the eraser clearing the way for happy endings. Take the simple gesture of a hug. Particularly those coming from a mother, hugs have long been called “the best medicine” to “make everything better.” People lately love to say “hug it out” as one weapon of that magic eraser. They have their power, yet they are only the start. For the four friends experiencing painful setbacks and crossroads approaching middle age in If Not Now, When? hugs are not immediate magic. Truer, they are a signal of comforting assurance that whatever problem exists now has a partner of support for the many next steps necessary to fully heal the issue at hand. Hugs are catalysts, not cures.
That honest approach is something to appreciate and respect from If Not Now, When? The hugs are plentiful, certainly. Happiness is visible and attainable but not a foregone conclusion. The central women don’t take over with thunderous victories. They endure because their battles are long.