Review: ‘Earth Mama,’ starring Tia Nomore, Erika Alexander, Doechii, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Keta Price, Olivia Luccardi, Dominic Fike and Bokeem Woodbine

July 24, 2023

by Carla Hay

Tia Nomore and Erika Alexander in “Earth Mama” (Photo by Gabriel Saravia/A24)

“Earth Mama”

Directed by Savanah Leaf

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area, the dramatic film “Earth Mama” features a predominantly African American cast of characters (with some white people and Latin people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A drug-addicted, financially broke single mother, who is pregnant and in rehab counseling, goes through various struggles, as she tries to regain custody of her two kids in foster care and has to decide what do about how her third child will be raised.

Culture Audience: “Earth Mama” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching good acting in an artfully made gritty film, even if the movie rehashes a lot of familiar themes about American women living in urban poverty.

Tia Nomore (sitting on floor) and Doechii (sitting on couch) in “Earth Mama” (Photo by Gabriel Saravia/A24)

“Earth Mama” has very impressive acting performances, but it doesn’t offer any new ideas. It over-uses tiresome negative stereotypes of black women as drug-addicted single mothers, while the diversity of black women is muted or ignored in this movie. “Earth Mama” had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Although the movie’s technical crafts are admirable, “Earth Mama” has the same old clichés that have been unfortunately used by ignorant people as reasons to believe the lie that most African American women are inferior, stuck in a “ghetto” rut, and doomed to fail in life.

Written and directed by Savanah Leaf, “Earth Mama” is her feature-film directorial debut and is based on Leaf’s 2020 short film “The Heart Still Hums.” Although it’s usually not necessary to point out a filmmaker’s race in a review, it should be noted that Leaf is African American. That’s really no excuse for any filmmaker to perpetuate some of the movie’s damaging portrayals that economically deprived people are a bunch of self-pitying whiners. And to be clear: There is a lot of self-pitying whining in this movie, which comes dangerously close to being offensive in how low-income African American women are portrayed as being of a similar mindset, instead of showing a more realistic variety.

In “Earth Mama” (which takes place in the San Francsico Bay Area, mostly in Oakland, California), single mother Gia (played Tia Nomore) is 24 years old, pregnant, in outpatient drug rehab, and struggling to get by on her low income. She has a part-time job as an assistant at a small photography studio in a shopping mall. The movie unfolds over the course of a few months, like chapters in Gia’s life. Some of Gia’s life before this time period is explained, while other questions that viewers might have about Gia’s past remain unanswered. In the beginning of the movie, which is told in chronological order, Gia is about eight months pregnant.

At a certain point in the movie, what is revealed is that Gia has two other children who are in foster care because of her legal problems and drug addiction. (Viewers find out later that Gia is addicted to crack cocaine and in recovery for it.) Gia’s oldest child is daughter Shayna (played by Alexis Rivas), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Her middle child is son Trey (played by Ca’Ron Coleman), who’s about 5 or 6 years old. Fortunately, Trey and Shayna are both being taken care of in the same foster home, for now.

Gia has limited and supervised visitation rights with Shayna and Trey. Shayna mostly refuses to talk to Gia, despite Gia’s best efforts to have have a loving and trustful relationship with Shayna. Trey is more receptive to Gia’s attention. Gia wants to regain custody of Shayna and Trey, but the odds are stacked against Gia because of her troubled history and because she can’t afford to take care of these kids.

“Earth Mama” shows Gia as a doting and concerned mother when she visits Shayna and Trey. As a way to bond with these two children, Gia gives sensory rings to Shayna and Trey that match a sensory ring that Gia has. “Earth Mama” doesn’t go into details over the reasons why Gia lost custody of Shayna and Trey, but Gia is on probation and appears to be very remorseful and willing to make amends for whatever she did to cause this difficult situation.

The fathers of these children are not seen or mentioned in “Earth Mama.” Gia says more than once in the movie that she’s not really interested in dating anyone. She also seems bitter and pessimistic about ever finding a true love partner who will treat her with kindness and respect. In other words, she’s been badly hurt by the fathers of her children.

Gia’s closest companion is her best friend Trina (played by Doechii), who is also pregnant and without a love partner. Trina firmly believes that Gia should keep Gia’s unborn child and do everything legally possible to win back custody of Shayna and Trey. Trina is very outspoken with her opinion that if Gia doesn’t raise these three children herself, then Gia is being a “bad mother.”

Gia later befriends a somewhat androgynous woman in her 20s named Mel (played by Keta Price), who meets Gia when Mel helps Gia assemble a baby crib. Mel doesn’t state what her sexuality is, but the movie implies that Mel is probably sexually attracted to Gia, who treats Mel as a platonic friend. A man in his 20s named Miles (played by Dominic Fike) also comes into Gia’s life as a friend.

Gia’s case worker in government social services is Miss Carmen (played by Erika Alexander), who is empathetic about Gia’s situation but she doesn’t coddle Gia. Carmen also encourages Gia to explore her options on what to do about Gia’s unborn child. Carmen thinks the best option would be for Gia to give this unborn child up for adoption.

After initially resisting the idea, Gia meets a prospective adoptive family: a middle-aged, middle-class, married couple named Monica (played by Sharon Duncan-Brewster) and Paul (played by Bokeem Woodbine) and their daughter Amber (played by Kamaya “Kami” Jones), who’s about 15 or 16 years old. Amber has mixed-to-positive feelings about getting a younger sibling through adoption. Monica and Paul are very eager to have another child.

Monica and Paul give Gia a summary of their courtship and marriage. Paul and Monica, who began dating each other when they were college, got married and became parents to Amber when Paul and Monica were still very young. The couple decided to wait to have another child until after they were more financially stable.

Years later, when Monica and Paul felt the time was right to have a second child, Monica had difficulty conceiving. And that’s why Monica and Paul are turning to adoption to have a second child. Although they know it would be easier to adopt a child from a country with less restrictive adoption laws, Paul and Monica (who are both African American) have decided they wanted to go through the U.S. adoption system, specifically to adopt a child who is the same race as they are.

“Earth Mama” shows a series of vignettes in Gia’s life before, during and after she makes the decision of whether or not to give up her unborn child for adoption. These vignettes are very “slice of life,” including some repetitive scenes of Gia at her job, where she mainly makes sure that backdrops and props are prepared when people take studio portraits. There are also several repetitive scenarios showing how financially broke Gia is, such as scenes of her using her prepaid phone and being worried that the phone will soon run out of money.

At group rehab meetings, Gia has to be prompted to open up about her feelings and experiences. These rehab meetings show people telling their sob stories with a self-defeating “woe is me/I’m stuck and I can’t do better” attitude. Expect to hear people complaining about their bad childhoods in these meetings instead of wanting to figure out how to improve their lives.

“Earth Mama” deals with race relations as something to get out of the way in the story, because the movie is more interested in its agenda of getting audiences to feel sympathy for Gia. Race relations in “Earth Mama” are not adequately explored or depicted. In real life, people in Gia’s community and environment would talk a lot more about racism than they do in this movie.

The closest that thing that “Earth Mama” does to show any racial tension is a scene during one of the rehab meetings that Gia attends. White people are in the minority in these meetings, not because white people have less drug problems than people who aren’t white, but because these meetings happen to take place in an area where most of the people are not white. When one of these white attendees—a young woman named Alexis (played by Olivia Luccardi)—begins rambling while talking, Gia expresses some annoyance that Alexis seems to get more time to talk because Alexis is white.

Gia isn’t a very complicated person, but Nomore gives a wonderfully nuanced performance that skillfully expresses many of Gia’s emotions that Gia might not say out loud. Fortunately, “Earth Mama” doesn’t succuumb to two lazy movie/TV stereotypes of black women living in poverty: making single mother Gia always fighting with her “baby daddies,” or having Gia speak like she wouldn’t be able to pass a basic course in English grammar. Gia isn’t academically well-educated, but she can communicate well when she wants to communicate well.

Gia is not saintly—she can be rude and somewhat flaky—but the movie really goes out of its way to distract viewers from thinking about why Gia lost custody of her children. “Earth Mama” has some horror-like elements that show Gia’s nightmarish hallucinations. A frequent hallucination that Gia has shows her pulling out the umblical cord from her body. There are artfully hazy scenes of Gia wandering in a forest. And composer Kelly Lu’s dreamlike piano-based musical score complement the somewhat pretentious way that “Earth Mama” shows urban decay as a type of cinematic art project.

“Earth Mama” obviously wants to have a certain portrayal of African American womanhood. But perhaps the biggest missed opportunity of “Earth Mama” is how it doesn’t do enough to show more diversity of African American women in this environment. Not all low-income African American women see themselves as perpetual victims, like Gia does. Not all low-income African American women see their situations as too hard to overcome, like Gia does. Gia is in survival mode, but she’s also stuck in a cycle of self-pity. Gia also takes for granted that she has access to several free and helpful resources that many impoverished women (especially in Third World countries) do not have.

Alexander’s performance as Carmen is compelling but abbreviated. There are hints that social worker Carmen has a very interesting life and can relate to Gia more than Gia knows, but “Earth Mama” fails to bring more of Carmen to the movie, other than being a concerned and occasionally lecturing authority figure. Potential adopter Monica is another female character who is very underdeveloped in the movie, probably because it would ruin the “Earth Mama” narrative of poor Gia having such a hard life.

People who do not personally know a variety of black women are most likely to hail “Earth Mama” as a very insightful look into the state of black womanhood. Meanwhile, people who personally know a variety of black women—and know that most black women are not single mothers with arrest records and drug addictions—are less likely to charmed by this skewed lens of black womanhood that “Earth Mama” offers. There’s a reason why audiences of all races and backgrounds are turning away from these movies that are about “black people stuck in the ghetto”: These types of movies—which were in abundance in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s—seem played out in modern times, when there is so much more awareness of many real-life black people who do not live and have never lived that type of “ghetto” life.

A24 released “Earth Mama” in select U.S. cinemas on July 7, 2023. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on July 28, 2023.

Review: ‘The Inspection,’ starring Jeremy Pope, Raúl Castillo, McCaul Lombardi, Aaron Dominguez, Bokeem Woodbine and Gabrielle Union

November 18, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jeremy Pope and Raúl Castillo in “The Inspection” (Photo by Patti Perret/A24)

“The Inspection”

Directed by Elegance Bratton

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2003, on Parris Island, South Carolina, and briefly in New York City, the dramatic film “The Inspection” features a racially diverse cast of characters (African American, white, Latino and Middle Eastern) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Based on a true story, a 26-year-old African American gay man enlists in the U.S. Marines to escape from homelessness, and he has to deal with rampant homophobia and bullying during his boot camp training. 

Culture Audience: “The Inspection” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Jeremy Pope, Gabrielle Union and well-acted dramas about LGBTQ people in the U.S. military.

Bokeem Woodbine and McCaul Lombardi in “The Inspection” (Photo by Josiah Rundles/A24)

Even when “The Inspection” becomes a little too repetitive in its drama, the movie shines brightest where it matters the most. Elegance Bratton tells a very authentic, heartfelt story of homophobia that he experienced inside and outside the U.S. military. The movie is based on Bratton’s real-life triumphs and traumas during his boot camp training in the U.S. Marines. There have been other movies about LGBTQ people who tried to hide their sexualities in the military, but “The Inspection” is a rare movie were the gay protagonist in the military is an African American cisgender man.

Bratton wrote and directed “The Inspection” as a semi-autobiographical film where the protagonist goes through many of the same things that Bratton went through in real life. Several characters are based on real people, while some characters are fictional. “The Inspection” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival and its U.S. premiere at the 2022 New York Film Festival.

The movie takes place in 2003, during the era when the U.S. military banned any sexuality that isn’t heterosexual, but there was a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it came to disclosure of the sexualities of people in the U.S. military. In the beginning of the movie, Ellis French (played by Jeremy Pope), who prefers to be called French, is a 26-year-old homeless man. He lives in New York City, and he has been homeless for about 10 years. When he was 16 years old, his very homophobic mother Inez French (played by Gabrielle Union) kicked him out of their home because French (who is an only child) is gay. All of this happened to Bratton in real life, as he has said in many interviews.

French has no other relatives he can turn to for support. He never knew his father, who abandoned Inez when she was pregnant with French. French has a tight-knit group of friends, many of whom are also openly queer, but he’s become tired of having an unstable and dangerous lifestyle on the streets. It’s mentioned at one point in the movie that some of his friends have died from violent crimes, while others have died from AIDS, and others are in prison.

French doesn’t want to end up in any of these situations. His mother Inez works as a corrections officer at a prison, and she already thinks that French is a major disappointment. French does not want to risk doing anything that could further alienate his mother. French goes to his mother’s apartment unannounced to ask her for his birth certificate. Why? French has decided that he’s going to enlist in the U.S. Marines to receive training in a career so he won’t have to be homeless anymore.

Inez and French have been estranged for years, but French never stops wanting his mother’s love and acceptance. When he shows up at her door, she’s not happy to see him, because she knows he’s homeless. Inez immediately asks French, “Are you in trouble?” Inez mentions that she’s been getting “notice to appear” courtroom documents addressed to him in the mail. He tells her about his life as a homeless person: “You have no idea how hard it’s been … Something has to change.”

When French tells her the reason for the visit, Inez laughs at the thought of French committing to something as demanding and strict as the military. She is also skeptical that French will be able to hide the fact that he’s gay. “What about your lifestyle?” she asks, as an indication that she thinks homosexuality is a choice.

At first, Inez doesn’t want to give him his birth certificate, but she eventually does when she sees that French is serious, and he’s not going to change his mind. Even though the vast majority of “The Inspection” takes place during French’s training on Parris Island, South Carolina, he continues to make attempts to connect with his mother in New York. His attempts are usually rejected.

When French is at his former home with his mother, she tells him exactly what she thinks about French: “I made peace with losing you.” When she gives him the birth certificate, Inez tells French: “This piece of paper is all I have left of the son I have birth to. If you don’t come back, consider this birth certificate void.” There are indications that Inez has misguided hope that somehow, being in the military will turn French into a heterosexual.

French is so determined to leave his homeless life behind, before he leaves for boot camp, he gives his cell phone to an elderly homeless man named Shamus (played by Tyler Merritt), who was French’s friend on the streets. Shamus, who calls himself an “old queen,” comments to French about French’s enrollment in the U.S. Marines: “You don’t have to do this. You can be anything you want to be.” French replies, “You and I both know that’s not true.” Shamus adds with stern words of encouragement, “I better not see you back here.”

French’s boot camp training is depicted exactly how you think it will go, based on how boot camp has been portrayed in many other movies and TV shows. There’s the shouting, macho drill sergeant, who uses his superior position to bully new recruits, especially those he thinks are the weakest emotionally and physically. This cruel tyrant is named Laws (played by Bokeem Woodbine), who constantly hurls abusive insults and who looks the other way when his underlings physically assault each other in their attempts to impress Laws and each other.

Laws, who is in his 40s, served in Operation Desert Storm. He the type of drill sergeant who snarls at his underlings: “I hate recruits, but I love Marines.” Later, in another scene, Laws says, “We don’t make Marines. We make monsters.” Although “The Inspection” has many emotionally raw and realistic-looking scenes, the movie occasionally falters with these types of corny statements from Laws.

Even though the U.S. military has a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in 2003, Laws breaks that policy by yelling at French in front of his fellow recruits: “Are you now or have you ever been a homosexual?” French is afraid of “outing” himself, so he shouts back, “No, sir!” It’s a lie that will eventually be exposed.

In addition to having a mean-spirited drill sergeant, another predictable aspect of “The Inspection” is the protagonist having a jealous rival, who is also a bully. His name is Harvey (played by McCaul Lombardi), who is very competitive and wants to be the “alpha male” of the recruits. Harvey expresses his homophobic views early on in the boot camp process. There are also big hints that Harvey (who is white) is racist against people who aren’t white. Harvey’s ego gets even more inflated when Laws appoints Harvey as the squad leader of the recruits.

At first, French thinks he can hide his sexuality, in order to avoid homophobic bullying and possible expulsion from the military. When the other recruits talk about their girlfriends and wives, French pretends that he has a female love interest too. The “special woman” he’s writing letters to is really French’s dismissive mother Inez.

French’s secret about being gay is eventually revealed when he and several other recruits (ncluding Harvey) are in a public shower. French starts thinking of a sexual fantasy about a good-looking drill sergeant in his 40s named Rosales (played by Raúl Castillo), who is Laws’ second-in-command. And the next thing French knows, his fellow recruits have noticed that French has an erection. French makes a half-hearted attempt to deny that he’s gay, but the secret is out. It gives Harvey and the rest of the homophobes even more of a reason to target French.

And so, for most of the movie, French is either shunned or abused (including beatings) by Harvey and some other recruits for being gay. Laws finds out and does nothing to stop this cruelty. In fact, when French tries to stand up for himself and threatens to report this abuse, Laws lets it be known that he hates snitches. Considering that Laws will be the one to decide which recruits will graduate from the training program, it puts French in a very precarious and vulnerable situation.

There are some bright spots to French’s traumatic and bleak experiences as a bullied recruit. He befriends another “outsider” recruit named Ismail (played by Eman Esfandi), who is harassed and insulted for being of Middle Eastern/Islamic heritage, during a time after 9/11 when hatred against Middle Eastern and Islamic people was encouraged in the U.S. war against Iraq and Afghanistan. Ismail is one of the few people who’s willing to stick up for French when things get very rough.

Another recruit named Castro (played by Aaron Dominguez) doesn’t really befriend French, but Castro doesn’t fully participate in the bullying against French either. Castro is someone who “goes along to get along” and tries to stay under the radar and not alienate anyone. But there’s a pivotal scene in the movie where Castro is forced to take a side, and he has to make a decision that will test his ethics and show his true character.

The person in the Marines who has the biggest emotional impact on French is drill sergeant Rosales, who is battling some personal demons of his own. Rosales wants to be a friendly mentor to French. However, French is sexually attracted to Rosales and wants a physically intimate relationship with him. Rosales is in a troubled marriage to a woman and is conflicted about his own sexuality. You can probably guess what that means in terms of the movie’s plot development.

French is often underestimated as being a “sissy,” but he proves to be a resilient and physically adept recruit who’s a fast learner. As his skills improve in the boot camp challenges, so does his confidence. And that’s a problem for Harvey, who doesn’t like to see French excel. Harvey is a stereotypical “villain” in this movie that doesn’t give him much of a backstory.

“The Inspection” greatly benefits from having a very talented cast, with Pope, Union and Castillo giving the standout performances. Their respective characters are also the best-written in the movie as fully formed human beings, instead of shallow stereotypes. Even with all the blood, sweat and tears that French experiences during boot camp, Pope’s soul-stirring performance never lets viewers forget that French’s real heartbreak comes from being rejected by his mother.

Union doesn’t have very many scenes in the movie, but when she’s on screen, she brings depth to her Inez character. Inez has self-righteousness about her homophobia because Inez genuinely believes that French’s sexuality means that he’s doomed to be in hell on Earth and elsewhere. Her anger toward French has other reasons too: As a single mother who had financial struggles in raising him, she somewhat blames him for giving her a harder life than she thinks she deserves.

Castillo’s Rosales character doesn’t talk much, but Rosales does a very credible job of expressing Rosales’ inner turmoil. Rosales is a good listener and observer who, unlike Laws, has a compassionate side. One of the best scenes in “The Inspection” is when Rosales asks French why French puts up with all the abuse he’s getting in boot camp and why French wants to be a Marine. This scene is partially shown in the movie’s trailer.

French candidly replies, “I’ve been raising myself since I was 16. My mom won’t even talk to me, If I die in this uniform, I’m a hero to somebody.” Although the story in “The Inspection” is mostly limited to French’s boot camp experiences, the movie shows some hints that French is a talented camera operator—a foreshadowing of Bratton’s future career as a filmmaker. In real life, Bratton got his first experiences in filmmaking as a camera operator in the U.S. Marines.

“The Inspection” doesn’t have a lot of dazzle or artsiness in the movie’s cinematography because this emotionally gritty film doesn’t need it. This is not a movie where people should expect to see a lot of insight into anything other than the world as French sees it in this specific period of his life. Viewers will feel his isolation in the midst of being surrounded by people.

This movie isn’t about how U.S. Marines prepared for war in the Middle East in the early 2000s. It’s about how people can be at war with themselves and their insecurities. “The Inspection” has moments of despair and hope in telling this memorable story. The movie also effectively shows how sometimes a person’s biggest strength is having nothing left to lose.

A24 released “The Inspection” in select U.S. cinemas on November 18, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on December 2, 2022. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on December 22, 2022.

Review: ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife,’ starring Mckenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Logan Kim and Celeste O’Connor

October 9, 2021

by Carla Hay

Celeste O’Connor, Finn Wolfhard, Logan Kim and McKenna Grace in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” (Photo by Kimberley French/Columbia Pictures)

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife”

Directed by Jason Reitman

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional U.S. city of Summerville, Oklahoma, and briefly in Chicago and New York City, the comedic horror film “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: The daughter and grandchildren of the late Dr. Egon Spengler (an original Ghostbuster) move to the isolated home in Summerville that they inherited from him, and they immediately have supernatural encounters with deadly entitities. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Ghostbusters” fans, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” will appeal primarily to fans of people who like well-paced adventurous films that combine horror with comedy that’s suitable for most children over the age of 6.

Paul Rudd and Carrie Coon in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” (Photo by Kimberley French/Columbia Pictures)

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is a “Ghostbusters” fan’s dream come true. The movie delivers almost everything that diehard fans of the franchise might want to see in a sequel. It also respects all the things that fans loved about the original “Ghostbusters” movie while introducing an exciting new storyline and appealing new characters. It’s the type of movie that is sure to win over legions of new fans to the franchise, which experienced some controversy and mixed-to-negative reviews from fans for the divisive, female-starring 2016 “Ghosbusters” reboot that was directed and co-written by Paul Feig.

Ivan Reitman, who directed 1984’s “Ghostbusters” and 1989’s “Ghostbusters II,” has been a producer of all “Ghostbusters” movies so far. For “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” he handed over the directorial duties to his son Jason Reitman, who co-wrote the “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” screenplay with Gil Kenan, a filmmaker who’s a self-professed “Ghostbusters” superfan. The result is what happens when you put true fans in charge of making a sequel to a beloved classic about ghost hunters who call themselves Ghostbusters: You give the fans what they really want. And that’s probably why “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” had its first public screening at the 2021 edition of New York Comic Con at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. After a “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” discussion panel that featured Jason Reitman, Ivan Reitman, Kenan and members of the movie’s cast, people who were in attendance got a surprise treat when the entire film was shown after the panel ended.

In “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” the daughter and two grandchildren of Dr. Egon Spengler (an original Ghostbuster) are at the center of the story when they find themselves involved in the same work that Egon did as a Ghostbuster in New York City. Egon was portrayed by Harold Ramis (who died of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis in 2014, at the age of 69), whose presence is definitely felt in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” Ramis was also a co-writer on the 1984 “Ghostbusters” and “Ghostbusters II.” When watching “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” fans will notice all the homages paid to these first two “Ghostbusters” movies.

Egon’s divorced daughter Callie (played by Carrie Coon), who was estranged from Egon for most of her life due to his workaholic ways, is having financial problems. It’s reached a point where Callie and her two kids, who all live in a Chicago apartment, have gotten an eviction notice from their landlord. Callie’s ex-husband, who is not seen in the movie, is not involved in raising the children. Later in the movie, Callie describes her ex-husband as a “dirtbag,” in order to leave no doubt that she doesn’t want him in her life anymore.

Instead of waiting to be evicted, Callie decides to take herself and her two kids—brainy 12-year-old Phoebe (played by Mckenna Grace) and socially awkward 15-year-old Trevor (played by Finn Wolfhard)—to the fictional small town of Summerville, Oklahoma, where Egon lived as a recluse until he died about a week before this story takes place. Even though Callie had not seen or spoken to her father in years, she inherited his run-down home. She decides to go there in person with her kids to see what to make of the place and to try to escape from her financial woes.

Egon’s home is a cluttered and dirty farmhouse located in an isolated area filled with corn fields and tall grass. Trevor quips when he looks at the dumpy condition of the house: “This is so much worse than I thought it would be.” Callie tells her children that they only plan to stay for a week while she gets some of Egon’s estate affairs in order. But there would be no “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” movie if that turned out to be true.

Before Callie, Phoebe and Trevor even arrived in Summerville, the movie shows that strange and spirits and creatures were inhabiting the area. And these sinister beings don’t plan on leaving anytime soon. There’s also an abandoned mine that was owned by the Shemdor Mining Company that plays a large role in explaining the mystery behind this story.

The mine used to be a big source of the town’s economy, but the mine was shut down years ago by the U.S. Air Force, because miners began leaping to their death in the mine shafts. Why did the U.S. Air Force get involved? It’s all explained in the movie, but viewers can figure it out as soon they hear that the U.S. Air Force and other military and federal law enforcement have had an interest in Summerville.

After Callie, Trevor and Phoebe arrive in Summerville, they find out that Egon wasn’t very well-liked by the locals, who gave him the unflattering nickname Dirt Farmer. Egon kept mostly to himself, and when he did interact with people, he was often gruff or aloof. Trevor and Phoebe never knew their grandfather Egon, but Phoebe seems more fascinated by Egon than Trevor is. During the course of the movie, viewers will see that Phoebe also inherited a lot of Egon’s analytical and personality traits. While Phoebe is very scientific-minded, Trevor is the more artistic sibling, because he is interested in filmmaking.

Callie already knows that Egon’s house is worthless. But to her dismay, she finds out that her estranged father left behind a lot of debts that she’s now responsible for paying, since she is his only heir. She tries to hide these problems from the children, but they are intuitive and are smart enough to figure out that things aren’t going so well for their family and they will be in Summerville for a while, since they have nowhere else to live rent-free.

Summerville is a quaint small town that has some characteristics of a bygone era. For example, Summerville has a drive-in diner called Spinners Roller Hop that has roller-skating servers. One of these servers is a teenager named Lucky (played by Celeste O’Connor), who immediately catches Trevor’s eye when he and his family eat at the diner one day. It’s attraction at first sight for Trevor.

Trevor is so infatuated with Lucky that he gets a job as a dishwasher at Spinners Roller Hop, in order to get to know her better. Trevor lies about his age (he says he’s 17) so that he can get the job. Callie takes a while to warm up to Trevor, and their possible romance is hinted at and teased throughout the movie. Later in the movie, Trevor does a lot of driving of a certain vehicle that “Ghostbusters” fans know and love, even though he’s not old enough to have a driver’s license.

Trevor and Callie also meet a precocious kid who’s about 12 or 13 years old. He calls himself Podcast (played by Logan Kim), because he has his own podcast where he likes to think of himself as an investigative journalist and historian for Summerville. Podcast is naturally inquisitive, and he quickly befriends Trevor and Callie. Podcast constantly carries around audio equipment with him, so he can be ready to record anything newsworthy. He’s also an aspiring paranormal investigator. How convenient.

Summerville is the type of town that doesn’t have many cops, but there are enough police officers who eventually notice some of the shenanigans that Trevor, Phoebe and Podcast get up to around town. Summerville’s Sheriff Domingo (played by Bokeem Woodbine) just happens to be Lucky’s father. Lucky ends up joining Trevor, Phoebe and Podcast in their ghostbusting activities when things get really dangerous.

Trevor isn’t the only family member to meet a potential love interest in Summerville. Carrie begins dating a seismologist named Gary Grooberson (played by Paul Rudd), who teaches at the local high school. Gary, who is a middle-aged bachelor with no children, is a little bit of a goofball nerd who would rather be a full-time scientist than be a teacher to help pay his bills. He’s so bored with teaching that one of the movie’s first scenes of Gary has him using a VCR and TV monitor in his classroom, to show old horror movies such as “Cujo (on VHS tape) to his students, as a way of babysitting them while he does other things that interest him.

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is a feast of references to the first “Ghostbusters” without copying any previous “Ghostbusters” plot. Is there anyone from the previous “Ghostbusters” movies who is in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”? That information won’t be revealed in this review, although that information has already been leaked on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) and other places where people can find out the details if they really want to know. Any “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” cameos from original “Ghostbusters” cast members also have updates on what their “Ghostbusters” characters have been up to since the 1990s.

It’s not just people from the first “Ghostbusters” movie that might or might not make a re-appearance. Don’t be surprised to see any ghosts, demons and monsters that look familiar. “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” also has done something hilarious and clever with the Stay Puft marshmallow presence in the movie. The visual effects for “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” are well-done and bring chills and laughs in all the right ways.

The filmmakers of “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” understand that all the visual effects and scary creatures in the world wouldn’t make this movie succeed. People have to root for the main characters. And the movie delivers on featuring characters that are relatable yet find themselves in extraordinary situations. It’s a well-cast movie where all of these talented actors inhabit their character roles with a great deal of believability, even when extraordinary things are happening to their characters on screen.

In “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” Phoebe is portrayed as the smartest and most fearless hero of the movie, which is undoubtedly a star-making turn for Grace. Phoebe is serious about science, but she also likes to tell jokes that she knows are corny. For example, one of the jokes is: “What do a cigarette and a hamster have in common? They’re both completely harmless until you stick one in your mouth and light it on fire.”

Wolfhard also does a very credible job as Trevor, who can be adventurous or nervous, depending on the situation. Kim’s portrayal of Podcast is of someone who is endlessly curious, but he’s not a brat, which is what this character could have been but thankfully is not. Coon’s portrayal of Callie is of a concerned mother who’s trying to hold her family life together, even when things are starting to fall apart. Gary is smitten with Callie, so this infatuation is used for some lighthearted jokes in the movie.

Because “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” focuses most of the story on the adolescent characters, some people might say that the movie is trying to be like the Netflix series “Stranger Things,” which also co-stars Wolfhard. But make no mistake: This is a “Ghostbusters” movie in every way. It has comedy, scary thrills and plenty of adventure and mystery that all harken back to the original “Ghostbusters,” but told from young people’s perspectives. That doesn’t mean the adult characters are sidelined in the movie, but they really are supporting characters who don’t get involved in the action until it’s absolutely necessary.

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is escapist entertainment, but the movie also has some tearjerking, poignant moments, especially in the final scenes. Stick around for the mid-credits and end-credits scenes too, which will further delight fans of the original “Ghostbusters” movie. Even if people don’t see these credits scenes, it should come as no surprise that “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” already telegraphs that this film is not the end of the “Ghostbusters” movie series.

Columbia Pictures will release “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” in U.S. cinemas on November 19, 2021.

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