“On the Come Up,” has some “8 Mile” mixed with “Boyz in the Hood” and a hint of “A Star is Born”

Synopsis: The story centers on 16-year-old Bri, who wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Facing controversies and with an eviction notice staring down her family, Bri doesn't just want to make it; she has to make it.
Director: Sanaa Latham
Stars: Sanaa Latham, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Method Man, Jamila C. Gray

Sanaa Latham has over 50 acting credits to her name in the Internet Movie Database, also known as IMDB. Does that number surprise you? It seems right, maybe even a little low, considering she’s been acting for over 20 years. We are also familiar with seeing her in front of the camera in projects like The Best Man, Love & Basketball, and The Family That Preys, to name a few. One of the great things about her resume is that she’s been on over 50 sets, which means she has a lot of experience handling being on set, scheduling, etc.

Latham has decided it’s time to try something new. The results can vary when an actor decides to go behind the camera. Sometimes it’s great: Costner, Eastwood, Washington. Sometimes not so much: Jodie Foster, for instance. It’s hit-and-miss.

In this film, we meet Bri, played by Jamilla C. Gray. Bri is 16 and is the daughter of a legendary local hip-hop legend, Lawless. Lawless has passed away, and Bri and her brother are being raised by their single mother, Jay, played by Latham. Bri is a high schooler, and her family isn't well off. To help bring in extra cash, she sells candy at the school. Yes, candy. You want a chocolate bar; Bri is your girl? School security doesn’t seem to like her entrepreneurial spirit, and they get physical with her.

In addition to that, she also participates in ‘Rap Battles’ in the area. She seems to have inherited her father's lyrical gifts and is quite proficient at handling herself lyrically.

Method Man also has a role in the film as a business manager who sees Bri's talents and wants to take her under his wing, but her existing manager and ‘Aunt’ Pooh, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, doesn’t want to let her star client go.

Jamilla C. Gray establishes herself in this role. Nothing about her performance made you think of her as a ‘newbie’ to the acting game.

Method Man joins a list of musicians who have seamlessly transitioned to acting. He nails the hustling manager role.

But it’s Sanaa Latham who needs to take a bow. In music, we constantly hear things remixed, and she has mixed several films here. This movie is part 8 Mile, part Boyz in the Hood with a little A Star is Born sprinkled in. The result is a strong debut for Latham as a director. This is a strong movie using source material from Angie Thomas, who also wrote The Hate U Give.

The story is engaging, and I thought this was a solid first feature. Sanaa is Swahili for work of art, and that’s what she has delivered.

Grade: B

Watch the movie trailer: