"Coming of Age in South Side Atlanta"
What You Need To Know:
In its best moments, ATL captures a bubble-world of innocence within a harsh social environment. The movie’s moral content is much better than most movies set in an urban landscape. It stresses several positive moral messages, such as the importance of family, community, and the protection of loved ones. However, the movie has a number of problems, including pagan worldview elements, suggested promiscuity, and an inexcusable amount of foul language. Because of this, ATL is not appropriate for children or younger teenagers, and MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution
(Pa, BB, C, LLL, V, S, N, A, DD, M) Light mixed pagan worldview emphasizing visceral pleasures with some strong moral elements stressing the importance of family and community and the protection of loved ones, plus a teacher mentions praising Jesus, and a man finds a “real woman” at church; 63 mostly light obscenities and five profanities; brief violence implying (but not showing) a young man being shot, a girl tries to fight another one but is restrained, a young man is robbed, and other mild street-violence elements; sexual content briefly suggesting possible fornication in one scene as well as brief dialogue discussing sexual activity, also a few instances of heavy petting and lewd dancing; a couple of scenes at a swimming pool with upper male nudity and women in bathing suits; brief alcohol use by adults at country club; an adult is depicted smoking a cigar, as well as drug dealing of marijuana, but clearly presented in a negative way; and, dishonesty and misrepresentation.
ATL is a coming-of-age drama about a group of inner-city friends preparing for life after high-school. Set in the south side of Atlanta, the story is inspired from the childhoods of famed R&B writer/producer Dallas Austin and TLC star Tionne Watkins.
High-school senior Rashad (Tip Watkins) realizes his life hanging out with friends at the Cascade roller rink and the city swimming pool is going to be changing soon, so he wants to make the best of it while it lasts. Unfortunately, his universe already appears to be dissipating. With graduation approaching, his ambitious friend Esquire (Jackie Long) is perhaps too focused on getting accepted into an Ivy League college, and his new girlfriend (Lauren London) seems to be concealing some important dimensions of her identity.
Further complicating matters is the fact that his little brother Ant (Evan Ross) is being recruited by high-rolling drug dealer named Marcus (Antwan Andre Patton), and his insufficient guardian Uncle George (Mykelti Williamson) doesn’t seem to be too worried about it. Rashad understands his decisions and actions will have important consequences on both himself and those he loves the most, and that he ultimately must decide whether he is willing to do what it takes to be the strong man his deceased father had hoped he would one day become.
While ATL approaches intricate issues such as race, class and identity, it fails to scratch too far beyond the surface, and much more closely resembles a long music video than it does a think piece. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise, however, considering director Chris Robinson’s MTV-peppered resumé, nor is it necessarily a problem. Despite glancing at social concerns ever-present among teenagers from the urban working class, this movie is more interested in how they escape these worries. From this perspective, ATL is an endearing success.
In its best moments, ATL captures a bubble-world of innocence within a harsh social environment. Most of the dialogue exchanged between Rashad and his friends while hanging out by the pool or at the skating rink is lighthearted and innocent banter disguised as tough-guy street slang. Like many teenagers, they spend their time flirting with the opposite sex, talking about their favorite music (in this case hip-hop) and laughing. This phase in Rashad’s life, however, is in its twilight, and circumstances push this realization to the surface.
Rashad’s relationship with Ant is an engaging one, with Rashad having become a default father figure to his younger brother after they were orphaned at an early age. Rashad affectionately calls him “Jellybean” because he’s “hard-headed on the outside, but soft on the inside,” and Ant’s hard-headedness is evident when he’s lured into the fools-gold world of drug-dealing. Rashad does his best to discourage him from this life, (including the use of big-brotherly physical force), and instead tries to teach him the virtue of hard work.
ATL’s content is certainly head-and-shoulders better than most movies set in the urban environment. It stresses several positive moral messages, such as the importance of family, community, the protection of loved ones, and the need for positive male role models for male children and male teenagers. However, the movie has a number of problems, including pagan worldview elements, suggested promiscuity, and an inexcusable amount of foul language. Because of this, it is not appropriate for children or younger teenagers, and MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution.