Sunday, October 1, 2023

The Strays

Movie Name:
The Strays
Year of Release: 2023
Director: Nathaniel Martello-White
Starring: Ashley Madekwe, Bukky Bakray, Jorden Myrie, Samuel Paul Small, Maria Almeida, Justin Salinger, Lucy Liemann, Tom Andrews, Rob Jarvis, Michael Warburton
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review
"The Strays" is the feature directorial debut of Nathaniel Martello-White, following a substantial acting career and a few shorts that he has since also written and directed. The narrative focuses on Neve, a biracial woman who lives in an affluent British neighborhood. She is married to Ian, a white man, and has two teenage children, Sebastian and Mary. She works at her kids' school as a deputy headmistress, and is planning a fundraising gala to be hosted at her place. Her children in the meantime have made friends with two black teens who appeared out of nowhere, Carl and Dione. Carl gets a job as a janitor at the school, and helps Sebastian with his basketball and getting rid of bullies, whereas Dione takes a job as an assistant in Ian's office and is soon fiends with Mary, even braiding her hair. Both Carl and Dione eventually appear at the fundraiser, addressing Neve as their mother, shocking all the attendees, including of course her family who has no idea of what's going on. After the debacle of the fundraising event, Neve explains to Ian, Sebastian and Mary who Carl and Dione are and why she kept that part of her life hidden. She also goes to meet Carl and Dione, and gives them money to help them get back on their feet while they're in London. However this seemingly new chapter in everyone's life doesn't go as smoothly as expected.
There's something lurking underneath the premise of "The Strays" that is actually quite interesting. A bit of a lingering influence of Michael Haneke's "Funny Games", that never truly materializes, since both Carl and Dione's goals are never quite transparent. Are they looking for retribution or acknowledgement or to terrorize the life of the mother who abandoned them? All these disturbing motivations are hinted at, but in the finished product the goal for these characters is never clearly presented. The same goes for the characters who inhabit this narrative: they're for the most part very secluded in the clich├ęs crafted for them, never going beyond the roles of the average husband, the kids who never stray or do something wrong, and even the disruptors not being given much at all to do. The most conflicting character, Neve, played with nuance by Ashley Madekwe, is the one who holds the key to unlocking the narrative, however her motivations and attitudes are never truly shattering discoveries. She doesn't want to deal with conflict, and therefore she leaves, which seems to be a pattern of hers. It's a film that is at the brink of something, with the writer/director managing to create a ponderous and unease momentum as the narrative unfolds, however the third act doesn't really come together, and neither do any of these characters. The cast tries their best to bring these characters to life, and Ashley Madekwe has good support from Jorden Myrie (who is the revelation of the feature) and Bukky Bakray. The production team is competent, but this is a film that could have gone even further with the questions it poses and the characters that it presents. As a result it feels a bit undercooked, and quite forgettable.