One, Two, A Thousand and One (CREDIT: Courtesy of Focus Features)

Starring: Teyana Taylor, Will Catlett, Josiah Cross, Aven Courtney, Aaron Kingsley Adetola

Director: A.V. Rockwell

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rating: R for People Yelling at Each Other

Release Date: March 31, 2023 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: In 1994, a young woman named Inez (Teyana Taylor) is released from Rikers Island and determined to get her life back on track. She quickly locates her six-year-old son Terry (Aaron Kingsley Adetola, and then Aven Courtney at age 13 and Josiah Cross at age 17) and pulls him out of the foster care system. Over the course of the ensuing decade, Mother and Son, as well as Inez’s longtime partner Lucky (Will Catlett), weather the challenges of a crappy New York City apartment, the violence of the streets, and terminal health diagnoses. All the while, Inez is constantly looking over her shoulder in the chance that the authorities will expose whatever she’s up to. Terry can sense something fishy, but he has no idea about the full extent of the truth about who he really is.

What Made an Impression?: A Thousand and One puts a ton of dramatic weight on the shoulders of Taylor, whom I know primarily from Kanye West’s “Fade” music video and as the Firefly from Season 7 of The Masked Singer. She does have several other credits to her name, but this is by far the most demanding on-screen role of her career thus far. And she rises to the occasion! Some people just have star quality, plain and simple, and Taylor is one of those stellar folks.

But while my feelings towards Taylor are pretty clear-cut, I’m more ambivalent about this genre of film overall. While watching stories of people struggling to get by, I often find myself wondering, “Is this overly exploitative?” and “Is this even meant to be entertaining, or just challenging?” A Thousand and One certainly doesn’t answer these questions; instead, it merely brings them back to the fore. Writer-director A.V. Rockwell paints a vivid portrait, but not a particularly unique one.

What is unique, however, is a heartbreaking, clarifying final act. Terry eventually does find the answers he’s always deserved, and it’s quite the treat to see this movie pull off such a surprise in a genre that’s not especially known for its twisty reveals. But if done properly, it works no matter what type of story you’re trying to tell. It’s a matter of editing and rhythm, and A Thousand and One nails its final decrescendo.

A Thousand and One is Recommended If You Like: Recently bygone eras of NYC

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Leaky Pipes