‘I’m a Virgin’ review: Boots Riley tells a huge story for Prime Video

Starring Jharrel Jerome as a 13-foot-tall teenager, the director’s TV debut “Sorry To Bother You” is a visually imaginative parable with a moving message.

In 2019, Jharrel Jerome won an Emmy Award for his passionate portrayal of Korey Wise in “When They See Us,” Ava DuVernay’s four-part limited series about the injustices that befell the Central Park Five. Wise was the oldest of the wrongfully convicted friends and, at 16, the only one to serve his entire sentence in a prison built for adults. DuVernay’s play is a searing evisceration of how the American criminal justice system treats young black men, from the police who profile, arrest and abuse the boys, to the prosecutors and the public who are all too eager to convict him. Of the five children, Jerome is the only actor to play his role from start to finish – from 1989 to 2014 – and his raw, emotional transformation helps the audience appreciate what was taken from Wise, all because he was in the wrong place . in bad weather, in bad skin.

Jerome probably won’t win an Emmy for playing Cootie, a 13-foot-tall teenager in Boots Riley’s Amazon Prime Video series “I’m a Virgo.” The seven-part surrealist parable is pretty out there in terms of the TV Academy, and its brisk absurdities are probably too bizarre to run a popularity contest. Still, Cootie and Korey have a lot in common, just like their host series. Riley’s first TV show (and his first project since his 2018 directorial debut, Sorry To Bother You) is about what it’s like to be young and black in America, told from the perspective of someone suddenly thrust into the spotlight and quickly should do. they learn how to survive.

But where DuVernay favored scorched-earth realism to spur the audience into action, Riley takes a gentler tack. “I’m a Virgo” is a treat, and even when its comedy darkens, the first four episodes delight in all the characters, their stories, and Riley’s telling.

Meet Cootie. A big boy since birth, Jerome’s character is raised by his aunt Lafrancine (Carmen Ejogo) and uncle Martisse (Mike Epps), who hide him from the outside world because they fear for his safety. Soon, their adult-sized dancing doll grows into a 13-meter-tall teenager. Cootie has to bend down to fit in every room. It can barely squeeze through doorways and causes serious structural damage as easily as most kids who drop silverware. Martisse is so exhausted from fixing it that she paints their living room two different colors, confining Cootie to her own half with a sturdy bean bag chair and less breakable material.

Riley captures it all with a mesmerizing mix of props and sets, close-ups and combo shots. The images themselves don’t always feel real, but they fit the fantastic story and strengthen our connection to it. “I’m a Virgo” is more of a comedy than many of the genre hybrids you hear about. You don’t have to answer the basic questions about raising a literal giant – how does he use the toilet? you will find out! – and once she reaches legal adulthood, there’s plenty of drinking, partying, and a wild (but sweet) sex scene to look forward to.

Still, Cootie is the definition of a gentle giant. Growing up in a house too small for him requires constant vigilance; moves carefully and speaks softly. His physical limitations lead to some developmental issues – as evidence of Jerome’s all-in performance, Cootie eats. exactly like someone who always eats dinner alone – but aside from her size, Cootie is easily identifiable as your average teenager. By the time you reach over the tall bushes of your family’s Oakland backyard, you’re as worried as your aunt and uncle about how hard the outside world will hit back.

However, through four episodes, the most frequently evoked emotion is joy. Cootie’s first group of friends are cool, their ideas are thoughtful, and their adventures are a lot of fun. (Their first drive around the block is a sight to behold, and every subsequent drive builds on that memory.) Her first relationship is tender and two-sided, as Flora (Olivia Washington) proves to be an exciting equal to the giant dude who asks her out. he is out at work. Obviously, if left to her own devices, Cootie would be fine. It’s commercialism that corrupts Cootie and the culture around her.

"I am a virgin"

“I am a virgin”

Courtesy of Prime Video

As a child, Cootie is given a comic called “The Hero,” written and produced by “entrepreneur, philanthropist, and hero” Jay Whittle (Walton Goggins, who you already know is cast in this role). Soon, Jay becomes the superhero she put on the page, and Cootie’s idolatry turns from imagination to reality. Having experienced nothing outside of his childhood home, he buys into the Hero’s mantra of law-abiding citizens. “People need to feel protected, and the law protects people,” Jay says in a TV interview that Cootie sees. “The law leads to order, and order is what keeps everyone safe.” Only later—when we see the Hero hovering over Oakland, suspended from a recycled drone and clad in gleaming white armor—do we see his vision of justice in action: “Stop!” he shouts from the sky and looks down. at a peaceful parking lot party. “In California, more than three people wearing similar clothing can be prosecuted as a gang.”

Cootie’s aunt and uncle are worried exactly about the hero and the discriminatory laws he enforces. “People are always afraid, and you’re a 13-foot-tall black man,” Lafrancine says. – They are afraid of you. Even when Cootie’s first-hand experiences are overwhelmingly kind, the edges overshadow the darkness, and Riley keeps her central metaphor of growing up black in America as a dramatic constant.

“I’m a Virgin” often feels like a stretched-out film, cut into choppy episodic chunks. (Since the episodes hover around the half-hour mark, it should clock in at just over three hours.) It’s not subtle, which may be part of its charm, while it still feels unnecessary at times.

But when you think that the whole is not greater than the sum of the parts, Uncle Matisse walks over to the closet, pulls back the door, and reveals a laser rifle the size of an elephant gun. “We’re ready,” he says, and your mind just says, “To hell with it.

grade: B+

“I’m a Virgo” premiered at the 2023 SXSW Festival. Amazon Prime Video will release the seven-episode series this summer.

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