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When I watch a movie, I need to be invested in the characters. I don’t need aliens in spaceships or buildings blowing up, but what I do need is someone to root for and, often, someone to root against.
If you’re the bad guy, you can be redeemed along the way and I will accept that, but you can’t skate by untouched. You need to get in trouble. You need to be punished. And if you’re the good guy, you need a happy ending, or, at least, an ending where I can imagine you’ll find your happy ending sometime after the movie has stopped.
These are the things I want — no, need — in order for a film to be successful. Without those themes, it feels unresolved. It feels like I invested my time in people who don’t deserve it.
And, unfortunately, that’s how I feel with Urban Hymn.
Urban Hymn Movie Review
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The British drama sounds cliched at best: An at-risk teen meets a do-good caseworker who discovers her talent for singing that can bring her out of her situation. I’m pretty sure if you replace the word “singing” with “writing,” this is also the plot of Precious (which, that sentence may make apparent, but I’ve never seen).
I’m okay with stories that follow the same plot. I watch Dateline every week and it’s always, “someone is murdered; find out who did it in two hours … maybe.” I still tune in. And if you tell me there’s a new romantic comedy with a meet-cute and a break up and a happy ending, I’m in. So find a formula and make it work. I’m good with that.
My trouble with this, honestly, is that I’m American. That’s what I’m blaming anyway. I’m used to things working out and movies ending with a big red bow. I need a resolution that I’m okay with.
Urban Hymn doesn’t have that. It reminded me of J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, which is also British and also lacks that happy ending. It was the story of a troubled teen, told with fantastic acting by the main and supporting characters who, unfortunately, don’t all make it out alive.
Spoiler alert: Not all the characters in Urban Hymn make it out alive either.
In Urban Hymn, there’s Jamie (Blank Panther’s Letitia Wright), the at-risk teen, her bad-influence BFF Leanne (Harry Potter‘s Isabella Laughland), and Kate, the caseworker (Shirley Henderson).
Jamie really wants to listen to Kate and make a better life for herself, but that means distancing herself from Leanne. And Leanne is the only person who has been there for her, thick and thin, during the last six years. Leanne is the friend who not only has your back, but will beat up inmates with a sock filled with batteries to defend you, no questions asked. Sure, maybe she’s not a great influence, but loyalty is strong.
Kate, not without her skeletons, is the person who takes you to choir and tells you to ditch Leanne without really understanding what loyalty is.
And when you’re watching, you want to agree with Kate. You want better for Jamie. But as you watch, you really end up wanting better for Leanne. She’s not supposed to be a good guy, but man if Isabella Laughland doesn’t carry this whole movie on her back and make you root for her. She’s the only character who you really feel like you know, no matter what. She’s honest and raw and there’s no guessing with her.
You’re supposed to root for Jamie. She’s the one in all the movie posters. But she’s sort of … bland. The movie wants you to feel for her, but she’s just so flat that I couldn’t care either way. Make it, don’t make it, it’s all the same to me.
But Leanne. You just want someone to hug her, to invest in her, to help her the way Kate did for Jamie, but you don’t get that. That’s not the plot line. That’s not the story here. And that’s too bad because that is a movie I would like to invest two hours in. Not this one.
Watch Urban Hymn:
Urban Hymn On Rotten Tomatoes:
In the words of Levar Burton, ” … you don’t have to take my word it.” Find out what critics had to say about Urban Hymn on Rotten Tomatoes.
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