Movie Review | ‘Wheels’: A Calm Reflection on the Disruptions of Family

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Arnstar as Max. Via 1091 Pictures.

Wheels follows Max (Arnstar), a young DJ who struggles to support himself and his grandmother by DJing parties for a neighbourhood gangstar. With the return of his troubled brother, Terry (Joshua Boone), from prison, Max’s dreams become distant. As Max gets close with Liza (Shyrley Rodriguez), a dance studio manager, he’s inspired by her determination and finds himself at a crossroads between family obligation, the streets and pursuing his dream.

Wheels is a quiet movie about the values of family and the place of the individual in that system. The director, Paul Starkman (who has directed a number of reality competition series), pays attention to this in his shot selection, editing pattern, transition choices, blockings, depiction of violence, and sound effects. All these appear in deference to the movie’s preoccupation, the betrayal of family and the staunch loyalty of family in the face of such betrayal.

The one hour twenty minutes long movie highlights the value of patience and perseverance through the character of Max and his antithetical brother, Terry. Although both are driven by the same goal of changing their financial circumstances for the better, their contrasting approaches make all the difference. Max, a reticent young man, has dreams of becoming a superstar DJ. However, for a large part of the movie, he stumbles through the thicket of failure and familial responsibilities. He finds love with Liza which rejuvenates his purpose and finally, he learns the quality of patience. On the surface, this movie is as calm as tea in a cup. The shots testify to this; the director’s insistence on the viewer to sink into, feel, and experience the movie through the characters. The acting is calm as well, the only riotous character in the movie being Oscar (Kareem Savinon)—and the violence portrayed through his character was deliberately played off-screen.

Amongst many other things, Wheels is also a homage to Brooklyn. Numerous shots showcase the city in various times of the day as several mundane events unfurl within it. Even Max and Liza’s love montage doesn’t opt for the elaborate. Instead it focuses on the ordinary; lovers holding hands while crossing the road, going on walks through the city; lovers lounging in a park. Wheels is a carefully made movie. Perhaps, this is its only fault. One feels there may be a hint of restraint, in the shots, in the exploration of the characters, and in the fulfilment of some parts of the plot. However, these nudges are mild and indifferent towards the success of the movie which is the realization of what it set out to do.

Wheels, Paul Starkman’s award winning feature debut, was released by 1091 Pictures on September 15th, 2020 and is now available digitally (Itunes, AppleTV, Amazon Prime, Fandango, Vudu, Vimeo On Demand, Google Play, and VOD.) In 2018, Wheels premiered at the Woodstock Film Festival where it was praised as “stunningly told and poignantly acted with depth and candor” and won Best Narrative Feature and The Audience award. In 2019, the film earned Best Feature at the San Francisco Black Film Festival, Best Film at the Harlem International Film Festival, Best Feature at the Lakefront Film Festival, Best Indie Film at the Arizona International Film Festival and was a finalist in the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival.

Side Musings

  • While she is a largely quiet character throughout the movie, the grandmother, played by Dorothi Fox, is a quiet but important character. Max and his brother, Terry, made pertinent plot-changing decisions around her.

Link to watch Wheels.

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