To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, On the Come Up is a hip-hop teen drama film directed by Sanaa Lathan in her directorial debut from a screenplay written by Kay Oyegun (Queen Sugar). Featuring Jamila C. Gray, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Mike Epps, Lil Yachty, Lathan, and Method Man the film is based on the 2019 novel of the same name by Angie Thomas. The story follows Bri Jackson 16-year-old battle rapper as she sets out to become a rap legend like her father.
At night on a street corner, a young Bri (Noa Dior Rucker) is with her mom Jay (Sanaa Lathan), and brother Trey (Cason Peterson). Jay tells her kids they are going to their grandmother’s house for a little while and tells Bri to be a good girl. She then leaves to meet a group of guys down the street. As her mom walks away Bri runs the opposite way. When she finally stops we see an older Bri (Jamila C. Gray) who stops to look at a mural of her dad on a wall. She hopes to make him proud.
Bri later meets up with her Aunt Pooh (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) at the Ring, a factory-turned club, to participate in a rap battle. As they walk through the building Aunt Pooh schools Bri on what to expect from her competition. Bri brushes her off stating she’s ready to dust whoever they got. The first rapper she battles is M-Dot (Ga-Ta) who makes derogatory remarks about her mother. As the crowd cheers and awaits her response, Bri chokes and runs away from the club to everyone’s dismay.
Adapting a book into a film is hard and rarely is the movie as good as the book. Even rarer is the movie is better or more beloved. Not many attempts garner the same accolades as the Harry Potter franchise or The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. For every popular adaptation like Hunger Games, there are ten unpopular adaptations like Divergent – a franchise the studio never even bothered to finish.A writer must know which parts of the story to keep for the big screen and which parts should be changed, skipped over, or lengthened. It’s not as cut and dry as copying the book word for word. Then there’s also the fan outrage to deal with. When people love a book they hate to see things cut out or changed. This is why now most adaptations get limited series or multi-season orders. Also, just because one book adaptation does well doesn’t mean other books from the same author will follow suit.
To me, it feels as if On the Come Up would have been better as a limited series for Paramount+. The story feels like key parts are missing that more than likely are present in the book. We get no interaction with Bri’s grandparents who raised her and her brother while her mom was recovering from addiction. Many of the secondary characters we see get little to no development. Bri’s brother Trey feels the most robbed as we are led to believe he has a college degree and quit his master’s program to come home and support the family by working at a pizza place. Now a job is a job and all money is green, but it’s hard to believe that someone with that much education under his belt couldn’t even find a desk job somewhere. There’s also Bri and Trey’s father Lawrence. He was a popular rapper in Garden Heights before his untimely death and apparently has music that’s streaming. Does his family not receive any income for the tracks he released? There are many more questions like this that are not answered throughout the story.
On a positive note, all the acting in the film is great. From top to bottom the cast do the best job they can. Jamila C. Gray carries the film with her vitality and grace. Bri is very relatable and her character is fully developed in one scene where you see the style of her bedroom. Method Man’s portrayal of Supreme is on point. He’s neither an antagonist nor a protagonist, but a good manager in my humble opinion. He knows what style will make Bri money which to a certain degree she knows she wants. On the Come Up is presented to viewers as a fairy tale. The movie starts with once upon a time, Bri’s internal monologue is always in rhyme and many characters fit fairy tale archetypes. There is also a slew of messages that deserve recognition. The project is littered with commentary throughout about legacy, what it takes to make it, women having to look a certain way, having to rap about sexuality or violence and drugs to get records to sell to White kids, homosexuality in the rap game, police brutality, bussing, etc.
While the performances are good and the messages important, On the Come Up is not the ideal adaptation a studio wants following The Hate U Give. It feels as if Paramount only made this movie to pump up the content on their streaming service instead of giving it the care, attention, and budget it deserved. I give On the Come Up a Solid 5/10. With a longer runtime and more developed secondary characters, this could have been a great adaptation. Maybe better care will be given if they decide to adapt another one of Angie Thomas’ novels.