Kayla Tanaka (Nichole Bloom) is a 16 year-old aspiring artist with a promising future provided she keeps her nose to the grindstone while trying to land a college scholarship. But that’s easier said than done since she’s being raised in a rough area of Los Angeles where temptation lurks around every corner.
So, one might expect her parents to approve when she starts dating an equally-ambitious classmate (Robert Bailey, Jr.) from the other side of the proverbial tracks whose father is a successful, Harvard-trained lawyer. But no, Kayla’s mother, Angie (Jessica Tuck), puts the kibosh on the liaison just as soon as she discovers that the object of her affection is African-American, ordering her daughter to “Get the [F-word] out of the house” because “you’re sneaking around with a Goddamn [N-word].”
Unfortunately, it only falls on deaf ears when Kayla points out that her White mother has been in an interracial relationship with a Japanese man (Chris Tashima) for the past 22 years. Their marital status is about to change however, because Mrs. Tanaka has a terrible drug addiction that’s frustrated her husband to the point of moving out of the house and filing for divorce.
Between their mom’s habit and hypocrisy, it is only a matter of time until both Kayla and her younger sister, Amberlyn (Courtney Mun), rebel by hanging out with black guys anyway. Trouble is, their new suitors aren’t straitlaced like J.J., but stone-cold ghetto gangstas with not much of a future to speak of.
Kayla’s lover, Treyshawn (Delon de Metz), is a 19 year-old drug dealer with his own car, while her sibling can be found hanging out in alleys swapping sexual favors for Chinese food. In the absence of a stable home life, the question soon becomes, can these girls be saved before spiraling totally out of control?
So unfolds Model Minority, a drama about a dysfunctional family marking a most impressive directorial/scriptwriting debut of Lily Mariye. An accomplished actress in her own right, Ms. Mariye is perhaps best known for portraying Nurse Lily Jarvik on the TV series ER.
Here, she proves to be quite the storyteller, spinning a quite compelling, cross-cultural, character-driven drama with its finger on the pulse. Considerable credit must also go to Nichole Bloom (Project X) for throwing herself into the emotionally-challenging role of Kayla with an admirable abandon.
A melting pot morality play about the temptations and travails of a couple of good girls gone bad.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 94 minutes
Distributor: Nice Girls Films
To see a trailer for Model Minority, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPDPzl-DhOQ