The Grand Jury Prize at Sundance was unexpectedly awarded to A.V. Rockwell’s “A Thousand and One Days” a few months ago; in previous years, big-budget films like “Whiplash” and “CODA” had won the prize. While other movies were front-runners, it seems like Rockwell’s touching drama won mostly due of Teyana Taylor’s stunning performance as the film’s lead actress. A lady who makes some difficult decisions to protect her son, she gives one of those performances where you have to remind yourself that you’re seeing an actress.
It’s without a doubt one of the best performances so far this year. Taylor has a rare capacity for being present in a scene, behaving as though she is participating right then and there, rather than reciting lines from memory or obstructing movement. She is organic in a way that improves a narrative that struggles with plausibility in the last act and has some serious structural issues. You won’t care by then since she is so good. You won’t be interested in her story enough to wonder how it ends.
Review A Thousand and One
When the movie begins, Taylor’s character, Inez, is a New Yorker leaving Rikers Island. Even though she is only 22 years old, she exudes the grit of a person who has lived a long life and is aware of what she needs to do to succeed in this challenging world. Terry, who is portrayed by Aaron Kingsley Adetola, Aven Courtney, and Josiah Cross at ages 6, 13, and 17, respectively, is what she needs most, but he has in foster care while Inez has been locked up. Inez takes the hasty but rational choice to bring Terry home after his injury leaves him in the hospital at the age of six. Who could have raised him more effectively? And what’s one more child out of a dysfunctional foster care system that also hurt Inez?
Inez and Terry share a secret
Terry coerced by Inez to change his name and keep his past a secret. But despite what that synopsis might imply, “A Thousand and One Nights” isn’t as much of a thriller. As their New York neighborhood changes and evolves around them during the ’90s, Inez and Terry share a secret that characterizes their bond. Rockwell frequently comments on the gentrifying environment around Inez and conveys the excitement of NYC in this moment through sound bites and news pieces. Making her the rock-solid core of a world that revolves around her lends her narrative the tone of a survival story. She is not filming. She is holding her infant so firmly and is in the actual world, which is zooming by her.
In the end, William Catlett’s character Lucky, who plays Lucky, weds Inez. However, the focus of the movie is the relationship between Inez and Terry, which gives the classic mother-son story a new framework by highlighting how easily it could end. The choice Inez takes and the secret Terry must keep hidden give their relationship a symbolic urgency without turning it into a genre piece. Every mother fears that violence or tragedy will take her son away, but Inez must raise her son in a setting where that threat is more immediate. Numerous tales of single mothers triumphing over adversity have told to us, but this narrative makes them seem fresh once more as we experience Inez’s difficult choices and how they affect Terry’s perspective.
Veracity crumbles a lot
In a climactic act that I’m not convinced the movie needs, a lot of that veracity crumbles. Without giving anything away, there’s another mystery in Inez and Terry’s lives that fundamentally changes the meaning of everything that has gone before. This narrative choice forced me to leave a story that had felt so personal for so long. A twist is not necessary for the film. To reminded that this a melodrama and possibly always has a splash of cold water given how much it has done to make Inez, Terry, and the world they live in appear genuine. The concluding moments are deceptive in a way that the rest of the film, for the most part, resists.
Teyana Taylor, though, maintains her composure throughout. She is a force of nature, more than merely playing a character despite the narrative flaws in the movie. She manages to express the essence of a mother who understands she must help her son survive in this perilous world. And that she also requires him.