‘Jazzy’ Review: A Celebratory Journey Through Youth And Tradition

In Marissa Maltz’s Jazzy, the enchanting sequel to The Unknown Country, audiences are treated to a heartfelt exploration of childhood in the picturesque landscapes of South Dakota. This delightful film, which premiered at Tribeca, follows the titular character through the various seasons of her life from ages 8 to 12, capturing the essence of what it means to be young, free and full of wonder.

The film opens with Jazzy (Jasmine Bearkiller Shangreaux) at West Elementary, where she is seen engaging in the simple joys of childhood — riding the school bus with her best friend, Syriah (Syriah Fool Head Means), and playing with friends in the schoolyard. These moments are punctuated by a lively and eclectic synth soundtrack, reminiscent of the first film, which adds a whimsical and modern touch to the narrative. One of the most endearing scenes occurs when Jazzy invites only one classmate to her birthday party. They celebrate at an arcade and later continues the fun at a hotel, diving into the pool and jumping on beds. These scenes encapsulate the unbridled joy and carefree spirit of childhood, reminding viewers of the simple pleasures that define our early years.

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Maltz excels in capturing the small, seemingly insignificant moments that make childhood so magical. Her direction is patient and observant, allowing the children’s natural curiosity and humor to shine through. Jazzy and Syriah’s conversations about random topics, such as their favorite trees and stuffed animals, are hilarious and insightful. In one memorable exchange, the girls ponder the question, “When do you think we know we’re grown up?” Their candid discussion reveals their awareness of the burdens of adulthood — bills, work and the loss of happiness. This scene is both funny and profound, highlighting the innocence and wisdom of children, especially because most adults don’t even know when they’ve grown up.

Set in the same South Dakota locale as The Unknown Country, Jazzy explores similar themes of belonging, tradition and overcoming fear. It delves into the cultural heritage of its characters, emphasizing their connection to tradition and the importance of friendship in navigating life’s challenges. The film’s strength lies in its ability to portray children who genuinely enjoy being children. It’s rare to see a film that so authentically captures the joy, spontaneity and simplicity of youth without rushing its characters into the complexities of adulthood. Jazzy’s interactions with her younger sister, asking the toddler to “do something cool like a teenager would,” is a perfect example of the film’s playful spirit and genuine humor.

Maltz’s decision to keep the adults’ faces mostly hidden, with the notable exception of Lily Gladstone’s Tana, narrows the focus firmly on the children and their stories. This choice reinforces the film’s commitment to viewing the world from Jazzy’s perspective, allowing audiences to fully immerse themselves in her experiences.

What the film understands best and celebrates is the intricacies of growing up. The humanity in these characters and the worlds they inhabit made me nostalgic for their youth. This nostalgia isn’t just for the sake of recapturing lost years but for the idealism and optimism that define childhood — a time when the world is full of possibilities, and every day is an adventure.

Maltz’s keen eye for detail makes Jazzy a standout sequel that prioritizes childhood glee and the cultural heritage that shapes us. This film serves as a reminder to cherish the innocence of youth, the simple pleasures of friendship and the importance of holding onto the essence of what it means to live life to the fullest. 

Title: Jazzy
Festival: Tribeca (U.S. Narrative Competition)
Director: Morrisa Maltz
Cast: Jasmine Bearkiller Shangreaux, Syriah Fool Head Means, Richard Ray Whitman, Raymond Lee, and Lily Gladstone
Distributor: Coldiron Pictures
Running time: 1 hr 26 mins

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