“Last time,” Sweetness quietly but fiercely proclaims.
She is standing a few feet away from her father after he’s slapped her and she’s subsequently launched a bottle at him. At about 30 minutes into Victoria Mahoney’s directorial debut, we see Sweetness (masterfully played by a young Zoë Kravitz) assert herself, eliciting an almost fearful response from her alcoholic father as he realizes she is no longer afraid.
Yelling to the Sky drops us into the middle of the war zone that is the life of Sweetness, a biracial teen from a tough neighborhood and abusive home. We find her grappling with self-identity in a social environment that picks off weaklings. We watch her morph from sweet to sour for survival in a household that threatens violence at any given moment, even in response to love. With an alcoholic father and mentally ill mother, Sweetness doesn’t have much protection. So, she must learn how to protect herself.
We walk city blocks and school halls with her as she trades barefaced timidity for makeup, new clothes, a sassy demeanor and a piece of the drug game. This is her armor. We smirk when she dethrones her nemesis, played by Gabourey Sidibe. We cringe when she’s gone too far. We cheer when she stops to consider her downward spiraling path and reroutes.
Yelling to the Sky crashes against what we were told coming-of-age films should be. It shamelessly centers angst, fear, abuse and survival, and how they communicate with resilience, self-identity and love. Victoria Mahoney interweaves the gritty honesty of hard living with the buoyant hope of self-reclamation and possibility. She authentically displays how coming-of-age films can belong to all of us, not just the pretty in pink. The space between girlhood and womanhood is not always neatly wrapped in bubblegum friendships or an adorable meet-cute by the time the credits roll. This truth is the film’s strength. Mahoney makes way for raw nuance and not-so-linear storylines. Yelling to the Sky is a necessary addition to the canon of evocative representation.