Comfortable and Furious

Mickey Hardaway (2023)

Matthew tells it like it is…

My heart roars out to micro budget Indie features, where every aspect of talent involved does their darndest to make the overall production shine.

Mickey Hardaway was a film recommended to me, I think, because of its grappling with aspects of modern psychological stresses and the ways we deal with them, both in “respectful” therapeutic spaces, and in far less measured moments, literally face to face.

The cast is almost entirely African-American, and your author is a Caucasian male, so we may come across some awkward spaces in the discussion; I ask that you bear with me as I navigate this to the best of my ability.

First off, the film is visually gorgeous. I am not a DP (Director of Photography), but I have PA’d for a few, and there is brilliant lens work on display here. In fact, a couple of deliberate focus-pull shots are showoff moments that the crew deserves their flowers for. I was never, not once, unengaged by the visuals of this film. Wide shots, in particular, with two primary characters speaking, are often genuinely beautiful; I was reminded of Tony Zhou’s dearly missed Every Frame A Painting YouTube series.

Style-wise, the deliberate choice of black-and-white works very well. It never feels gimmicky or contrived; always fitting for the material and character work that is the core of the piece. A second-act sequence that warms into full-blown color is especially effective, and honestly, was my favorite part of the entire movie. I’m a big pushover for transitions like this, and the sequence, shot largely in slow motion with fantastic wide angles and frames crammed with sunlit warmth, moved me precisely as I believe the director intended.

Aurally, with a handful of ambient clashes (I would have opted for looping after the fact), the sound recording and dialogue presentation is generally warm and naturalistic. The movie is a dialogue-driven affair, so this is not an unimportant aspect; we need to hear these characters pouring their hearts out.

Here we come to my critical points, which I offer with gentleness, as I feel this film was achieved through insanely hard work and thousands of hours of artists giving their all, for the sake of the project; putting a payday on the backburner to ensure that a finished effort made its way to screens… which it did, and I salute that.

I resonated with the rage, hurt and empathy woven, often too gruffly, into the tapestry of this film. There is real pathos here, bleeding from the screen onto the furniture at times, as the story marches and shambles, stumbles and runs, finally collapsing, to make its points heard across time and space.

Having trained as an actor, there are moments of this film that feel so much like workshop exercises that I was both nostalgic and anxious. Many breaths held or stalled, face- and hand-acting hampering the delivery of dialogue, which itself is often overburdened with emotive outbursts and not hemmed in by the realism of space or breath. The cumulative effect is both impressive and exhausting. My inner drama nerd squealed; my inner working actor winced. If melodrama was the intent, the bullseye is splinters; it was not what I felt was appropriate, though again, the efforts were often impressive, though deserving of additional takes.

There are open dialogue homages, if not direct nods, to Pulp Fiction and Taxi Driver in the film. I’m not sure of the intent of these scenes, given that the subject matter is similarly violent and unsettling; I just thought it was worth noting as I attempt to build a critical framework. Certain moments are strongly reminiscent of Spike Lee, a la Jungle Fever and Do the Right Thing, with the attendant musical cues akin to Terrence Blanchard, in several scenes of exploding tension and stylized violence.

Overall, I found Mickey Hardaway to be both frustrating and arresting, as a viewer open to both modern melodrama and a display of unpredictable, exciting work to come. I am genuinely curious about the filmmakers’ and actors’ follow-up efforts: will these excesses be reined in or pushed further past stylistic boundaries? Time will tell.

Goat chimed in as well…

Occasionally, I am contacted by directors and writers of Indie movies to review their movies. Often, the movies are not very good or worth my time. At other times, we have discovered and enjoyed great finds like Road to the Well, Piranha Sharks and Mas Bouzidi’s short film Concessions.

Mickey Hardaway is a film that was written, directed and produced by Marcellus Cox. It is a powerful film that culminates in the devastating consequences of abuse, mendacity, betrayal and self-inflicted gaslighting. 

I am not going to merely rehash the plot of this movie with spoilers. Just watch this film that is available with ads on Tubi. Rashad Hunter (Mickey Hardaway) is the star of this show, with an excellent supporting cast. This mostly B & W (with a brief, but brilliant splash of color) film follows the life and tragedy of a very talented artist, aspiring to make the big time.

Unlike many black kids, his family is intact, mother, father and sibling, but he has suffered considerable mental and physical abuse from his father Randall (David Chattam). Randall blames Mickey for his own unfulfilled dreams and viciously undermines Mickey’s dreams and goals at every opportunity. 

As the movie winds its way to its inevitability, we are treated to quite a character study of Mickey. He has had it rough, both at home (which he left after a violent fight with Randall), and in his financial struggles in getting his art degree. Mickey does have some great support in his luckily-found girlfriend Grace (Ashley Parchment) and his high-school teacher Mr. Sweeney (Dennis L.A. White). 

Mickey, however, cannot shake the demons of his past, and at the urging of Grace, commences therapy with a well-known psychiatrist, Dr. Cameron Harden (Stephen Cofield Jr.). Mickey Hardaway is talented, determined and expressive, but he is also a seething and brooding volcano that eventually erupts. He is, in essence, his own worst enemy and after a business betrayal, by the film’s white villain, Nathan Hammerson (Samuel Whitehill), he goes totally off the rails. He now trusts no one, even foolishly shoving away those who are most supportive of him. Mickey turns to alcohol, which only fuels his forlorn depression and self-doubt. 

Mickey Hardaway is an outstanding maiden film for Marcellus Cox. It is a gut-punch film that is not easy to watch, but you will never forget it. It is not a perfect film of course, sometimes over-explaining the plot, but far be it for me to try to rescue this fine film-maker from the perils of redundancy. I also take issue with the beginning and the end of the film. I think the flash-forward was unnecessary, as it could spoil things for those who were really paying attention. 

That nit-picking aside, I cannot overlook the tremendous craft of Marcellus Cox in making this film. The acting was superb, the editing crisp, and what a story was told. It was a hard film to watch, but I’m sure glad that I did. The budget for this film was only $30,000! We are not worthy.

8.0/10.0 With the Goatesians Rating of excellent Indie Film



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2 responses to “Mickey Hardaway (2023)”

  1. John Welsh Avatar

    These are the kind of people I understand. It is hearting to see that in these days of $300 million productions a group of dedicated filmmakers can make a film happen on a modest budget. A serious film.
    Name to watch: Jamil Gooding.

  2. Goat Avatar

    Great job, Matthew. I am almost embarrassed to tack on my review, but it’s great to be the Boss.

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