Late Expectations: A Refreshing Coming-of-Age Film

Rising Hawaiian screenwriter and director, Laurie Arakaki has made it a point to feature a diverse set of characters and stories in her growing filmography. Arakaki continues her trend of representing minority groups often overlooked in film in her short Late Expectations, the latest entry in Issae Rae’s  #ShortFilmSundays series, which is oriented around a young woman's journey towards accepting her sexual identity. 

Late Expectations introduces its protagonist, Brooklyn-native India (Thais Francis), a day before her high school graduation. Added to her natural fear of leaving home for college is a responsibility to appease her homophobic single mother, Mrs. Wallace (April Armstrong). India’s decorated high school career and acceptance to Brown University certainly were met with a great deal of approval from her mother, but she can’t help but feel a sense of dishonesty and betrayal due to her closeted sexual orientation. To satisfy her mother, India further blurs her path towards expressing her identity by dating Nate (Tre’von Lyle) and shelving her feelings for her secret girlfriend Rose (Erica Trumpet). 

Rose perhaps displays the greatest level of maturity amongst the three teenage characters in the film. As much as seeing India with Nate pains her, she quietly remains peripheral to their relationship to give her girlfriend time. So, when Rose’s eyes awkwardly meet India’s mid-kiss with Nate early in the short, she holds onto a sense of hope that India will come out to the world for her. It’s a painful exchange Arakaki manages to film in mere moments but serves to build Rose’s character and her history with India. For Rose, who is tired of sneaking around and hiding, she cannot fully be herself until she is free to be with India publicly. This, of course, adds several dimensions to India’s character who feels guilty for putting Rose in such a painful position.

Apart from ‘spoon feeding’ audiences with information, Late Expectations otherwise delivers a tightly-knit and ‘smart’  character-study 

Late Expectations greatest hindrance to the otherwise great storytelling and direction by Arakaki are these small snarky comments made by Mrs. Wallace. When she refers to India’s boyfriend as her “son-in-law”, which passively pushes India to be less comfortable with her sexual identity, or encourages Rose to wear a skirt at the graduation because God “made” her a girl “not a boy”, Francis,who penned the film, spoon-feeds viewers the dramatic tension residing within the script as opposed to allowing them to make these inferences themselves. But for the most part, Late Expectations does just that. Francis’s script and Arakaki’s direction successfully construct a film which challenges audiences to piece elements of the plot together.  

Arakaki chooses to film all interactions with a shallow depth of field making the outside world and iconic features of Brooklyn blur to the background. The film is bare of wide shots and hardley features mediums either further cementing itself as a character study. With these directorial decisions in mind, Mrs. Wallace’s somewhat forced homophobic dialogue then serves a purpose to capture an uncomfortable response from India who, as we learn in the short’s last moments, is shelving more than one life-changing secret. 

Added to the great tasks of “growing up”, appeasing her mother, satisfying Rose’s wants, and hence crushing Nate’s, is the greatest expectation India has withheld. As a visit to the bathroom early in the film suggests, India is also pregnant. Rather than come out, she reveals her pregnancy to a shocked Nate, heartbroken Rose, and her dead-pan mother who just entered the room.

As Armstrong, who plays Mrs. Wallace, demonstrates in the last seconds of the short, the entire cast is quite effective at making these characters and their issues feel believable. Perhaps a few lines of stilted dialogue is the only element which boggs down the performances of this solid cast. Still, Francis and Trumpet, who play India and Rose respectively, manage to use the weaker parts of the script to their advantage by manipulating stilted lines to emulate the emotionally inarticulate conditions of these teens. 

Although it does fail in some aspects, Late Expectations excels in others, particularly through its refreshing rendition of the coming-of-age-film. A few of Arakaki’s works are available to stream on Vimeo and showcase the rising filmmaker’s liking towards character-studies which represent “smaller” voices.

Late Expectations is the latest entry on Issae Rae’s Youtube playlist #ShortFilmSundays. The Insecure writer/creator created the contest to provide a platform for aspiring filmmakers from underrepresented groups to share their voice. All 45 entries of #ShortFilmSundays are available to stream