I know going in that any film based on a YA novel is going to try my patience and generally give me a hard time. It’s not for nothing that I really hate those YA initials and every story-telling scheme and strategy they seem to stand for,
Sure enough, George Tillman, Jr.’s The Hate U Give (20th Century Fox, 10.5), based upon Angie Thomas‘s same-titled YA novel, put me through a kind of slow-drip hell. I watched, I waited, I approved of the sentiments, I grew sullen, I looked at my watch, I exhaled, I shifted in my seat, I checked my watch again, etc.
A Black Lives Matter saga about a high-school-age girl (Amandla Sternberg) enduring grief, trauma and social pressure after she witnesses a male childhood friend being shot to death by a patrolman after a routine pull-over, The Hate U Give says and feels and insists upon all the right things in the deeply unfortunate realm of hair-trigger cop brutality and racial pigeonholing.
It says, in short, what any semi-compassionate, half-aware 21st Century resident would agree with and hope for, and yet Tillman’s film is nonetheless mediocre (as almost all YA adaptations are) — plotted and cross-plotted and about as one-note as a drama like this can be, at least by my standards. And aimed at those who prefer their social-issue dramas neatly ordered and spoon-fed.
I’m talking about on-the-nose dialogue, “good” but overly telegraphed (and often way too emphatic) performances, too schematic, trite plotting, characterizations that feel too pat and tidy. A line or a scene connect every so often, but not enough to turn the tide.
Legendary screenwriter Robert Towne once said that people almost always avoid saying what they’re really thinking. They’ll look away or sidestep or talk around the elephant in the room. The finest dialogue is therefore often about the undercurrent — the things that are there and churning within but not directly mentioned or in some cases even referenced.
Everything in The Hate U Give is directly addressed. It has almost no undercurrent because everything is on the kitchen table, and that’s the basic problem.
Not for me…sorry. I didn’t hate it but I wanted to be somewhere else.