Life isn’t fair, and that should piss us the hell off. But as we grow older, we learn to accept that the world doesn’t owe us anything, and that some people get more rough breaks than others. What we should never accept is allowing unfairness to come from our own selfishness. George Tillman Jr.‘s The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete puts a friendship based on mutual survival at its center as an unfair and selfish world closes in on its helpless main characters, Mister (Skylan Brooks) and Pete (Ethan Dizon). Brooks and Dizon’s tremendous performances keep Inevitable Defeat from the overwrought melodrama Tillman and screenwriter Michael Starrbury try to bring down on the picture. Unfortunately, the filmmakers end up coming off as more uncaring than the world they want to depict.
Mister can’t catch a break. He’s going to have to repeat eighth grade, and that’s by far the least of his problems. His mother Gloria (Jennifer Hudson) is addicted to smack, and he’s forced to babysit his neighbor Pete because Pete’s mother is also an addict. When Gloria is arrested during a raid on their tenement, Mister and Pete hide out because they don’t want to be sent to the foster care center, Riverview, because they’ve heard kids get killed there. Forced to find a way to survive over the summer, Mister makes a point of protecting the innocent Pete as the young boys struggle with hard break after hard break to the point where their bad luck seems like the work of a malevolent writer than an unforgiving universe.
Inevitable Defeat has a strong start as it attempts to reconcile charity with unfairness. Mister is partially responsible for his own circumstances as he pushes people away and believes he can create his own salvation by nailing an acting audition near the end of the summer. Then he’ll go to Beverly Hills and life will be easy street. It’s the best he can hope for, and I commend the character for having any hope at all considering his soul-crushing life. He’s rightfully angry at how the world treats him. There’s hardly any kindness to be found, so he has to create it through his relationship with Pete. Their survival extends beyond the need to find food and avoid the housing authority. Their bond is the greatest good.
The superb performances from Brooks and Dizon stop the relationship from feeling sappy. They also define the relationship beyond simple friendship or brotherhood. They’re protecting each other; Mister wants to stop Pete from seeing the awfulness of the world, and Pete gives Mister a reason to fight to the next day. It’s a special bond, and the two young actors play their roles to perfection, especially Brooks. The young actor gives a performance well beyond his years, and it’s perfect for a character who has had to grow up way too fast.
These performances are the best anchor against a film that is constantly being swept up in overwrought sentimentality the story simply doesn’t need. We know Mister and Pete are in dire straits; having the phrase “inevitable defeat” is a pretty good indicator of what to expect. But Tillman seems bent on making sure to beat us over the head with their tragic circumstances. It’s not enough to see that Pete has been abused by his mother; we have to have some sad music play over the scene. Starrbury’s script almost pushes the movie into tragedy porn as every seemingly every possible injustice and bad break is leveled at the characters. It reaches the point where we wonder if everyone is going to get cancer before a meteorite hits the tenement.
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete simply tries too hard, and its emotional manipulation becomes far too obvious. Assuming the viewer has a soul, he or she is going to feel sympathetic to a couple of innocent kids who are struggling to survive through almost no fault of their own (Mister could learn to accept a helping hand, but we understand why he pushes people away). By playing up the maudlin aspects like the debasement of Mister’s mother or going for poverty clichés like ketchup sandwiches, the filmmakers seem reluctant to trust their picture to their strongest asset: their young actors. Inevitable Defeat has the right ideas and the right performances, but Tillman shares Mister’s misguided notion that everyone has a dearth of sympathy. We know the world is unfair, but Tillman doesn’t need to force us towards compassion.
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