Article and photography by Sarah Tomlinson
TIFF’s premiere screening of the movie On the Come Up left me feeling dazzled and inspired at my first ever TIFF show. The movie premiered on Thursday, September 8 at the Princess of Wales Theatre and told a story of a talented high-school student who dreams of making it big in the world of battle rap.
The movie, based on the New York Times bestseller by Angie Thomas (The Hate U Give), follows a protagonist Bri (Jamila C. Gray), who wants to carry the legacy of her father — a local hip-hop legend named Lawless. He was killed when he was just on the verge of making it big. She works with her Aunt Pooh, notoriously known as a drug dealer, to perform in rap battles. However, after her mom loses her job and Bri gets suspended at school for an altercation with the police, the pressure to be successful starts building. Bri is approached by Supreme (Method Man), an old associate of her father. He promises her fame and fortune if she just follows his lead and encourages her to drop her aunt as a manager, to which she agrees. Bri records and releases a successful bold track that sparks controversy in her community when students protest at the school against police violence. By the end of the movie, she must decide whether she wants to pursue her dream if it means compromising her integrity or abide by her family’s advice and give up rapping.
The story was riveting, hilarious, emotional and everything I look for in a movie. From the rap performances, to the romance that forms between Bri and one of her classmates Malik, it kept me on my toes. The plot explored several current themes in society. It covered mental health and drug addiction through Bri’s mother, who is a recovering drug addict and suffered from depression after almost losing her children. It delved into queerness through Bri’s friend Sonny, who comes out as gay. In spite of that, the audience was laughing most of the time at the hilarious banter between Aunt Pooh and Bri.
From a musical perspective, this movie also really hits the mark. While the song Bri releases is controversial, it’s a hard-hitting rap track with lyrical flow and an amazing hook. The talent demonstrated at the rap battles is also impressive. The characters rapped accapella so it had nothing to do with the beat, but instead each rapper’s lyrical prowess and flawless stage presence.
I attended the show with a close friend and neither of us had any idea that the actors would be in the audience. As we made our way to our seats, a group of people dressed in suits and sparkling gowns emerged from a side door and walked across the center aisle right in front of us. The audience immediately broke out into a chorus of murmurs as all eyes gazed at the actors. That’s when I realized my first time at TIFF would be magical.
Moments later, an introduction was given by a speaker which led to her inviting the director of the movie Sanaa Lathan, who I would soon find out was also played Bri’s mom in the movie. Lathan was dressed in a beautiful flowy pink dress with ruffles and her hair slicked back in a ponytail. She spoke wonderfully about how her upbringing inspired her to direct this movie and what that experience was like. As she exited the stage, the lights dimmed and the audience prepared for what would be an astounding movie.
As the movie ended, my friend and I wondered if we were expected to leave but we soon realized that the show was not over. One by one, each actor was brought on stage for a group Q&A with the audience. People asked questions about the music industry, intersectionality and racism. One of the actors was actually Lil Yachty and he answered all the music related questions, encouraging upcoming rappers to utilize the internet for music marketing.
This movie is overall a must-see. With a crisply-paced plot and an inspiring story about following your passion while staying true to yourself, it could appeal to lots of movie fans. It comes out on Friday, September 23, 2022.