“The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete” is a good movie that never manages to make it to great. And that’s not due to a lack of acting, writing and directing skill nor a lack of opportunities to take it to the next level. The acting in the film is downright spectacular and the journey the characters take is absorbing but, at the end of the day, the film just feels one-note and there’s no big emotional punch or payoff. With a film this intriguing, harrowing and harsh, it almost feels like a rip off that you aren’t crying by the end.
In the film we meet young Mister (Brooks), a smart yet brash 8th grader at a public school in New York. After a rough final day of school we see things get much, much worse as he returns home to his horrible tenement project to his drug addled mom Gloria (Hudson) who has, for some never quite defined reason, taken in a young Korean neighbor boy named Pete (Dizon). Mister simply cannot catch a break.
He gets bullied, unfairly treated and is constantly beaten down. And this is before his mother goes missing, leaving him and Pete alone in their dingy apartment with no money and very little food during a blazing hot summer. But what Mister really wants to do is act. Mister’s dream is to make a local audition for a television series that will then take him out of his personal hell and into fame and fortune in Beverly Hills.
Whoever this Skylan Brooks kid is, he’s a young actor to watch. While he frequently wears a frown that seems carved into his young face, he also has bouts of childlike innocence and fun that make him a character you really want to root for. I can’t remember ever seeing so much depth in a “child actor.” There’s two or three showstopper scenes featuring him where’s this young man is mesmerizing and clearly acting from an old soul.
Jennifer Hudson as Gloria is also amazing. I’ve always been on the fence about her talents, particularly whether or not she can truly act when not breaking into song. “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete” answered that question for me as she’s nearly unrecognizable as a strung out hooker mom and she never utters a musical note. Yet for all the great performances here, the film gains an almost episodic feeling as one awful thing after another befalls Mister and Pete.
“The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete” doesn’t shy away from how horrible a life Mister and Pete have and being abandoned is just the tip of the iceberg. No one wants to help them and worse, as they try to evade the authorities who want to take them away to a legendarily horrendous group home, the neighbors intentionally make life worse for the boys. And even though you feel terrible for the lives they lead and the events that unfold in the film after a while you’re almost tempted to yell, “o.k., I get it! Life sucks for these two!” But even so the performances here, not only by the aforementioned actors but by everyone, keeps you involved in what’s happening. So much so that I wanted to love the film yet it somehow didn’t seem to want to let me.