Some films are about love, but the passion never extends past the four-letter word of “lust.” Rashaad Ernesto Green’s innocently composed Premature is different. It patiently winds down Harlem’s pavements, following a young couple on the verge of everything but nothing, deeply inhaling love with each earnest breath.
The drama’s warmth matures through Ayanna (Zora Howard, who also serves as the film’s co-writer): A young Black writer with dreams of attending Bucknell. Her poetry narrates the lump in the throat we feel while in love, how the source of its existence feels distant yet just under the surface. Though just aged 17, Ayanna is emotionally experienced and confident. And with her friends, she’s forward and funny. Her and her friends spend their time ogling boys and gushing over their looks. And one day, while they watch a group of men playing basketball, Ayanna catches the eye of Isaiah (Joshua Boone): A fresh to the city music producer who’s a few years older than the teenage writer. Nevertheless, just as charming.
Ernesto Green’s Premature is split into three distinct acts taking place over the course of a summer. The first concerns the meeting of the two young lovers and the rapid growth of their feelings. Isaiah, for his part, is sweet and eager, yet nervous. He courts Ayanna, even though she ignores his clear infatuations, bumping into her later at the laundromat and hanging with her until they share a romantic purple-hued sunset by the water. Ernesto Green, through much of the proceedings, uniquely understands what passion and fondness looks like. When Ayanna and Isaiah finally do have sex, the former begins aggressively. However, Isaiah slows the mood, putting on a sensual jazz record while closely exploring Ayanna’s body. Ernesto Green and cinematographer Laura Valladao do the same. With extreme close-ups, the camera swoons with Ayanna, locked in an embrace with both of their bodies, capturing a love that’s so clear that the shape of its spirit is perceptible to the naked eye.
The romance’s next two acts aren’t nearly as ebullient. Relationships are meant to be tested, as sure as our hearts are meant to stop. For the next third of the film, several revelations emerge to shift the at-first, undeniable trajectory of their passion. Throughout, Premature could be accused of relying on a plethora of all-too-familiar clichés to deliver its story. Typically, the use of poetry as voice-over narration would be too on the nose. The overused technique nearly teeters the story into that void, but the words’ strength keeps the balance. Moreover, the drama’s events become all-too predictable and its solutions, convenient, especially during the final act. However, the earnestness of the actors and the film’s emotional grounding never allows the suspension of disbelief to remain weighted.
Moreover, like the love scenes, the camera doesn’t shy away from the unease of the film’s later tumultuous events either. In the second act an abortion takes place. In most films, audiences would see a woman take a pill and then the camera would cut to a few days after the act. However, Ernesto Green doesn’t take that approach. Instead, we remain with the woman. We hear the pain and fear, and witness the aftermath too. The scene is one of the many ways Premature remains grounded, including its unobtrusive capturing of philosophical conversations between many of the Back characters: from the difficulties of being a Black woman, to the role of art in the face of activism and confrontation.
While Premature takes a conventional path in other regards, by the film and summer’s end we feel the unyielding pull of nascent love. A narrative brave enough to not be dominated by Black pain, but tenderness. Many of those flowers belong to the strong performances by Howard and Boone, who never converge on the trivial nor contrived. Detailed and patient, Premature gives the taste of romance, and the taste is enough for anyone to lust for every one of its thoughtful and urgent 90 minutes.