Based on a true story, Jamesy Boy is accomplished-enough inspirational fare to attract the likes of Mary-Louise Parker (as a desperate single mom), James Woods (as a hard-nosed warden) and Ving Rhames (as a convicted murderer/mentor) in supporting roles. First-time feature writer-director Trevor White has shaped the rise, fall and redemption of teenage street thug James Burns (newcomer Spencer Lofranco) into parallel storylines, crosscutting between the three years leading up to his incarceration and the few months he spends in maximum-security prison (after four years in juvie).
It’s an inspired structure, aligning the emotional arcs of the two narratives, which intersect when James is first locked up in the earlier timeline and when he’s released in the latter. These transitions are smooth, with the prison scenes clearly demarcated by a drab gray color palette. Meanwhile, White establishes a strong theme about second chances and not letting your past define who you’ll become.
However, the script also suffers from a few missteps, failing to establish James as a poet, aside from showing him scribbling in a composition book, until the written word promises him salvation. And the young characters are implausibly insightful, launching into unlikely soliloquies about their lots in life.
Lofranco himself is an appealing new actor, though he’s too old to convincingly play 14 in the earlier scenes. He and co-stars Rosa Salazar and Taissa Farmiga, who play competing love interests, exhibit glimpses of nicely nuanced acting. But it’s a bit much to ask a first-time actor to carry the entire film. (He’s in nearly every scene.)
Still, with Jamesy Boy on their IMDb filmographies, both White and Lofranco are ones to watch.
Director: Trevor White
Writers: Trevor White, Lane Shadgett
Starring: Spencer Lofranco, Mary-Louise Parker, James Woods, Ving Rhames, Taissa Farmiga, Taboo
Release date: Jan. 17, 2014