The Virtues of Collaboration

It’s quite something when an event happens that captures the world’s attention. Unfortunately, it usually involves some form of natural or manmade disaster or the death of a prominent figure. But then there are times when occurrences take place that collectively captivate us, bringing out the compassion and humanity in us all and frequently producing miraculous results. These events embody the best in all of us, showing that we are indeed capable of great things when we put our hearts, minds and efforts to it, a scenario heroically depicted in the new fact-based historical re-creation, “Thirteen Lives” (web site, trailer).

For 18 days during the summer of 2018, the world’s attention was focused on the attempted rescue of 12 young soccer players and their coach (James Teeradon Supapunpinyo) who were trapped inside the flooded Tham Luang Nang Non cavern in northern Thailand’s Chiang Rai province. An unexpected monsoonal rainstorm moved in over the mountain towering over the cave, enabling huge volumes of water to percolate downward through crevices and sinkholes, quickly inundating the channels and chambers of the long, deep cavern system. Given that the storm occurred before the typical start of monsoon season, it took everyone by surprise, forcing the intrepid young cave explorers to hastily flee in search of safety. However, for much of the time after the flooding initially began, no one knew for certain what fate befell the missing.

Cave divers John Volanthen (Colin Farrell, left), Dr. Richard “Harry” Harris (Joel Edgerton, center) and Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen, right) seek to rescue 12 young soccer players and their coach trapped in a flooded cavern in director Ron Howard’s historical re-creation, “Thirteen Lives,” now available for streaming online. Photo by Vince Valitutti, courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures.

Rescuers flocked to the cave to try and figure out what to do. Considering the hazardous conditions in the narrow flooded corridors, it wasn’t clear if even experienced cave divers could make their way through the tight passageways. And, in light of that, authorities overseeing the project weren’t sure they could sanction such ventures given the danger involved, especially with no guarantee of finding anyone still alive. Even expert responders like Thailand’s Navy SEALs were unsure if they’d be tapped for such a treacherous mission.

As officials contemplated how they might reach the survivors (if any), they undertook efforts to stem the tide of the flooding, such as looking for ways to divert the flow of rainwater off the mountain so it wouldn’t penetrate the crevices and worsen conditions inside the cave below. It was believed this measure might increase the survival chances of the missing, but diverting the flow would come at a cost: It would flood adjacent agricultural fields and wipe out the rice crops of peasant farmers. However, considering what was at stake, the farmers willingly agreed to the plan if it might help the boys and their coach, despite the uncertainty of their fate. That’s because, as their story spread, the missing 13 were increasingly being seen as the responsibility of everyone in Thailand, not just those actively working on their possible rescue.

Despite efforts like those aimed at redirecting the flow of rainwater, officials were concerned about other issues, such as the availability of oxygen inside the cave. Even if the team had somehow managed to survive, it was unclear whether or not they would have enough breathable air, considering that every breath they took would lead to the release of carbon dioxide and dilute the available oxygen level. With the clock ticking, authorities realized that they had to intensify their efforts before time ran out.

This intensification led to a ramping up of efforts on multiple fronts, with volunteers pouring in from all over. Volunteer ranks estimated at 10,000, made up of specialists and everyday individuals, from 17 countries took part, all with one goal in mind – saving the boys and their coach, if at all possible, at virtually any cost.

Spearheading this intensified effort were expert cave divers, led by Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) and John Volanthen (Colin Farrell) from the UK. Nine days after the 13 went missing, Stanton and Volanthen succeeded in finding them deep inside the cavern in a chamber where they had been holed up on an internal “beach,” located approximately 2.5 miles from the cave mouth. Needless to say, the divers were stunned and grateful to find everyone still alive. But the next question became, “How do we get them out?”

Navy SEAL Capt. Arnont Sureewong (Tui Theerapat Sajakul, right) advises one of his volunteer divers, former SEAL Saman Kunan (Weir Sukullawat Kanaros, left), before embarking on a rescue mission to save a soccer team and its coach stranded in a flooded cave in northern Thailand in director Ron Howard’s historical re-creation, “Thirteen Lives.” Photo by Vince Valitutti, courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures.

The elation of finding everyone alive quickly dissolved when authorities and divers assessed the logistics of rescuing the trapped youngsters. The thought of trying to guide untrained youthful divers through the narrow passageways for a distance of 2.5 miles was daunting. In addition to the boys’ lack of diving skills, rescuers were also concerned about them being able to remain calm for such an untested long-distance “swim.” But, considering the alternative – everyone inevitably suffocating from a lack of oxygen or drowning from new flooding if nothing were done in time – it seemed wholly unconscionable to willingly abandon them, leaving them to die knowing that they were indeed alive before that was allowed to happen. So what were the rescuers to do?

Stanton and Volanthen reviewed various options, though all of them were considered unfeasible. But then they came up with a brainstorm that could be a possible breakthrough. They proposed seeking the assistance of Dr. Richard “Harry” Harris (Joel Edgerton), an Australian cave diver and practicing anesthesiologist. Stanton and Volanthen recommended a novel but exceedingly risky plan for retrieving the boys and their coach. It was a proposal that not only posed tremendous risks for the youngsters, but also the divers. It also raised ethical issues that Dr. Harris initially found entirely unacceptable. However, with no other viable alternatives available, a dwindling time window and the threat of more rain with the official arrival of monsoon season, the rescue team had to act – and quickly – if it were to carry out the plan.

The mission proved to be an effort mixed with the miraculous and the tragic, but it brought people together in ways no one had likely imagined possible. And its impact was felt not only by those directly involved in the effort, but also by those who lent their thoughts, prayers and energy to the success of the operation. It was a venture that stirred the world, touching individuals around the globe, reaching far outside the borders of Thailand. But, perhaps most importantly, it illustrated what’s possible when we all work toward a common goal, no matter what the capacity, one that brings out the best in us and shows what we can do if we collaborate and put our minds together.

If only we as a species could cooperate and collaborate with one another like this all the time, we’d have much more about ourselves to be proud of! The effort that went into this rescue truly illustrates the notion of the total being greater than the sum of its parts. In an age when callousness and indifference are all too often allowed to determine the course of events (and all of the “collateral damage” that comes with them), it’s heartening to see that we’re still capable of mounting a Herculean effort to save the lives of 13 people, a number that, sadly, might otherwise be readily written off as inconsequential or not worth the risk.

So what makes this scenario different? The beliefs that went into its execution made all the difference. The underlying sense of compassion alone significantly drove the effort to carry on in the face of seemingly impossible odds. But, more than that, a sincere belief in attaining success in this endeavor made it happen. It’s not clear how many of those involved in this venture had heard of this school of thought, but, based on the results achieved, it’s obvious that its participants believed in the viability of its principles and subsequently made them work.

There’s much to be said for the power of belief. Call it prayer or invocation or supplication or intent or whatever other word best suits you for describing the means to achieve the desired outcome. At bottom, these notions all essentially stem from the same source of origin – what we hold in our hearts and minds for arriving at the intended destination. And, based on what unfolded, there’s pretty powerful evidence to indicate that it genuinely works, despite the seemingly insurmountable conditions here that might have made such results seem impossible.

Youth soccer coach Ekkaphon Chanthawong (James Teeradon Supapunpinyo, center) leads his players in meditation to calm their nerves while stranded for 18 days in the flooded Tham Luang Nang Non cavern in northern Thailand as depicted in director Ron Howard’s new historical re-creation, “Thirteen Lives,” now available for streaming online. Photo by Vince Valitutti, courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures.

To a great degree, the overarching perspectives that participants hold regarding such an undertaking play a significant role in the process as it plays out. In many ways, this scenario draws heavily from the notion of determining whether the glass is half empty or half full. Those who held fast to the former perspective could very well have undermined the outcome. Meanwhile, those who remained open and steadfastly held on to options, hope and the materialization of a breakthrough solution saw their convictions and beliefs realized. Again, there’s much to be said for the power behind these intangible tools and what they can enable.

The specific beliefs constituting this perspective, of course, played a key role in the course of events. Paramount among these notions were the faith and trust that participants placed in achieving a successful outcome. In fact, they essentially served as the foundation of this effort, one whose success likely wouldn’t have been attained without them.

At the same time, the noticeable lack of certain other beliefs was crucial as well. By excluding or minimizing beliefs related to fear, doubt and limitation, the rescuers were able to keep such influences at bay in terms of any impact they might have had on the process. This is not to say these elements were totally absent, as evidenced by the occurrence of one notable tragedy that took place during the implementation of the rescue team’s plan. However, in the greater scheme of things, considering what everyone was up against, the fact that these undue influences were prevented from having a greater impact is indeed remarkable.

Of course, none of this could have happened without the aforementioned spirit of cooperation and collaboration. This included everyone who played a part in this multifaceted heroic co-creation. There were the divers, the rain-diverting engineers and their support teams, whose hands-on efforts made the plan work. Then there were the countless individuals who prayed for a successful outcome, both on their own and in organized vigils, around the globe. And, needless to say, there were the trapped victims themselves, who found a way to safety and managed to stay alive for a seemingly interminable length of time, doing their part to make the efforts of the others worth their time, energy and heroism.

Perspective played a significant role in this, too, most notably where the coach was involved. Having acted as chaperone for the boys in their cave exploration, he felt personally responsible for their well-being. During their time in the cave, he went to great lengths to keep them alive, such as leading them in meditation to keep them calm and to help them regulate their breathing to avoid using up precious oxygen. On top of that, he unknowingly benefitted from the intangible support of those who prayed for the missing; while he was worried that he’d be blamed for the circumstances in which the youngsters found themselves, he was instead praised for his efforts at helping to keep them alive at a time when they might have just as easily perished. This is more proof of the power of beliefs at work and what they can yield for the benefit of all concerned.

Taken collectively, the elements that made for a positive outcome truly represent a remarkable example of what we can achieve when we draw upon the power of properly formulated beliefs and what’s possible when their strength is combined. We should follow that lead and sincerely make an effort to employ such measures on an ongoing basis if we hope to make this the world many of us hope it can be. This is just one such illustration of what’s possible when we do that. Maybe we should all heed the message in this – and consciously make the effort to put it to use regularly.

Cave divers Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen, foreground left), John Volanthen (Colin Farrell, foreground right), Dr. Richard “Harry” Harris (Joel Edgerton, background left) and Chris Jewell (Tom Bateman, background right), along with Navy SEAL Capt. Arnont Sureewong (Tui Theerapat Sajakul, right), work to save 13 trapped individuals from a flooded cave in northern Thailand in “Thirteen Lives.” Photo by Vince Valitutti, courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures.

This inspiring story truly moved people around the globe, and director Ron Howard has brought it to life in a technically masterful re-creation. The level of logistical detail on display here is commendable in virtually every respect, frequently making for an edge-of-the-seat watch. However, as capably made as this picture is, its 2:29:00 runtime can occasionally try the patience of even the most committed viewers, even when the tension level is cranked up, especially in sequences where the action essentially becomes repetitive. This is by no means intended to diminish the uplifting nature of the story or the adeptness with which it has been produced cinematically, but, given the emphasis on the picture’s technical merits, this approach tends to shortchange the emotional impact somewhat. A journalistically styled by-the-numbers take on telling a story like this is fine, but I was hoping for something a little more heartfelt at times in light of the miracle this epically heroic real life yarn turned out to be. “Thirteen Lives” definitely earns a more than passing grade, but I can’t help but wonder what it might have been with the infusion of a little more emotion – and a lot more heart-tugging. The film played briefly in theaters and is now available for streaming online.

Enlightening stories like this genuinely deserve wider attention and recognition in the current zeitgeist. If we were to become more aware of what we’re doing right as a species than being fed a diet of where we’re deficient, we just might change our overall perspective on life and what we’re capable of achieving. It would provide us with a new outlook and potentially a new set of beliefs for manifesting a better, more caring reality. It might even prompt us to see our existence as a glass that’s more than half full, one that’s brimming with possibilities in which we’d readily step up to participate as engaged members of the human collective. And what a world that would be.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Gone Fishin’ 

Photo by Ethan Robertson on Unsplash.com.

Those expecting to find this month’s movie edition of the Frankiesense & More video podcast are going to have to wait a little longer this time since the show is on summer vacation! But don’t worry – we’ll be back with more, including a few surprises. Stay tuned, folks!

Hard Choices for Hard Times

Life is full of hard choices, and, fittingly enough, they nearly always materialize during periods of hard times. Still, despite the uncannily synchronous nature and timing of such matters, that doesn’t make them any less challenging to address. And, as much as many of us would rather not deal with such issues, they must be handled, lest we be saddled with even bigger problems to solve. Those solutions may not prove to be adequate or prudent, either, even if they act as stopgap measures to get us through tough times. So it is for a young woman saddled with potentially overwhelming conditions in the new crime drama/character study, “Emily the Criminal” (web site, trailer).

Poor Emily (literally). The 27-year-old Los Angeles catering company worker (Aubrey Plaza) is drowning in debt, most notably $70,000 in student loans for an art school degree that she didn’t even finish. And, due to a minor criminal record that mercilessly clings around her neck like a millstone, she’s unable to find a better-paying job due to difficulties with passing background checks. So she struggles to get by just to cover living expenses and interest on her outstanding loans, with the principal on those debts going virtually untouched. She’s trapped on a financial treadmill, and it’s amazing she’s able to carry on.

To her credit, though, Emily makes a sincere, concerted effort to play by the rules in paying off what she owes. She scrambles to generate cash whenever she can and diligently goes on job interviews. She also periodically meets with her longtime friend, Liz (Megalyn Echikunwoke), with whom she grew up and later attended art school. Liz managed to complete her degree and is now comfortably employed, and she makes what appear to be genuine efforts aimed at helping Emily land an internship where she works. But making that happen is easier said than done, given that Emily doesn’t have a sheepskin, despite being only a handful of credits away from completing her degree. Liz’s boss Alice (Gina Gershon) dangles her share of underwhelming carrots before her, but genuine, meaningful  promises are hard to come by. So Emily continues to soldier on as best she can, even though the frustration level is constantly being ramped up.

Financially strapped catering company worker, Emily (Aubrey Plaza), looks to alleviate her debt by becoming involved in the world of black market capitalism in director John Patton Ford’s debut feature, “Emily the Criminal,” now playing in theaters. Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment.

Circumstances change one day, however, when Emily’s co-worker, Javier (Bernardo Badillo), asks her for a favor. She’s initially reluctant to comply with his request, but he makes it worth her while by giving her a lead on how to make a quick $200. So, in return for the tip, she agrees to help him out. However, when Emily texts the number Javier gives her, she’s met with a vague response. She’s simply given an address to show up at the following day if she’s interested, leaving her somewhat unsure of what she’s getting herself into. But the prospect of a quick cash score is enough to convince her to follow through and see what it’s all about.

Upon arriving at the designated address, she’s rushed through a series of interrogations in which she’s pressured to provide information about herself and the source who told her about the lead, all without explanation of what’s going on. After being put through her paces, she and a group of others are then assembled for a “presentation” of what this mysterious opportunity is all about. Stepping up on a makeshift presentation platform is a somewhat shady-looking character who appears to be one of the head honchos of this operation. His name is Yousef (Theo Rossi), and he starts out by letting everyone know that what they’re about to engage in is illegal. He offers them the opportunity to leave if they’re uncomfortable with that, but he also notes that, if they agree to participate, they’ll each get the $200 promised to them. Intrigued, no one leaves, including Emily, all of whom wait on what Yousef has to say.

In essence, Yousef describes his operation as a “dummy shopper” scheme, a credit card scam in which phony credentials are created and used to make purchases of various types of merchandise, such as high-end electronics, that are then resold for cash on the black market. Given that the goods are acquired with counterfeit credit cards (backed up by fake driver’s licenses bearing the names of fictitious individuals), the retailers have no one against whom they can collect on the approved charges, leaving them with no recourse once the “purchased” merchandise leaves their outlets. It’s a practice that, in most instances, allows the dummy shoppers to walk away scot-free – and puts saleable brand name goods in the hands of Yousef and his band of criminals.

When Emily successfully pulls off her first “purchase,” she receives the promised fee. And, given the ease with which she carries out the task, Yousef is impressed with her moxie, offering her an opportunity for an even bigger score the following day. Details of that job are again sketchy, but, considering how easily she was able to get away with her first gig – and the promise of a more lucrative payday – Emily decides to take Yousef up on his offer.

Under the mentorship of Yousef (Theo Rossi, right), head of a Los Angeles-based dummy shopper credit card scheme, financially strapped catering worker Emily (Aubrey Plaza, left) learns the ropes of the operation in “Emily the Criminal,” now playing theatrically. Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment.

The second heist proves somewhat more problematic, leading Emily into legitimate danger. But, given her financial circumstances, she again manages to rise to the occasion. She discovers she has quite a knack for this kind of work, and she relishes the income it generates. And, the more she does it, the more impressed Yousef becomes. The time it takes away from her catering job leads her to rearrange her work priorities, but, when she assesses the money she’s earning from her respective gigs, it becomes easier for her to alter her routine – and to do whatever it takes to ensure her success in her newfound line of “work.” It also helps that Yousef’s backing starts to turn personal, giving her another reason to change lanes when it comes to making money.

As the stakes are upped, it becomes apparent that Emily is ever more willing to do whatever it takes to reach her financial goals, even if that means resorting to ruthless or underhanded measures. She still claims to be interested in fostering an art-related career, though her passion for it is decidedly waning, especially when the monetary considerations of her new pursuits take precedence. She also feels compelled to zealously rally her support behind Yousef, particularly when he comes under increasing scrutiny from his cousin and partner in crime, Khalil (Jonathan Avigdori), who is beginning to believe that Yousef is growing too powerful, leading to a struggle for control of the operation. And, of course, there’s Emily’s ongoing fiscal crisis, which she still needs to address, despite all of these other conditions.

How will everything shake out? That depends on how far Emily and Yousef are willing to go in light of what they’re up against. A number of high-stakes twists and turns are in play, whose outcomes hold the potential of taking events in some unexpected directions. But, when one’s back is up against the wall, there’s no telling what one is capable of – and what can ultimately result.

When we’re faced with overwhelming circumstances that threaten to undermine our existence, we may panic with what we’re up against. But how are we to deal with such conditions? The feelings of desperation we often experience in scenarios like this could easily consume us, possibly sending us down paths from which there’s no return.

These are times that call for creativity, for thinking outside the box, pushing boundaries and overcoming fears and limitations. These are all challenges in themselves, the particulars of the specific problems we face notwithstanding. And, even if we manage to devise solutions to the issues at hand, they typically won’t do us any good if we don’t believe in their viability. This is where the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents, the building blocks of existence, come into play. Should we fail at making use of these formidable intangible resources, we’re likely screwed; but, if we’re convinced of the veracity of plans based on them, we stand a good chance of making things work out.

Granted, we must take into account that these “solutions” may contain inherent faults of their own. They might solve a problem at hand but, in turn, create other new ones in their wake. Admittedly, this may not be an ideal way to reconcile these matters, but they could help to back us out of a tight corner – even if they subsequently place us in yet another one. However, if we recognize that resolving these overarching issues is truly a process, we might well put ourselves onto a path that ultimately leads us out of our troubles for good. What we must be sure to do, though, is remain committed to achieving resolution, an undertaking that could require multiple steps involving the fulfillment of multiple manifestations to finally attain the desired result.

That could prove tricky in several respects. To begin with, we may become weighed down by beliefs related to fear, doubt and limitation that could undermine our grander plans, keeping them from materializing as intended – or at all. But, even if we’re able to forestall that potential pitfall, we may erroneously come to believe that devising effective solutions to our challenges is a “one and done” practice. Such thinking fails to take into account the notion that the creation of our existence is, in itself, an ongoing process, one that relies on a series of sequential manifestations that collectively constitute the unfolding of our reality, including all of its components, such as those associated with resolving our challenges. This principle, in fact, helps to define and characterize the very nature underlying this school of thought – that we’re all in a constant state of becoming.

When faced with threats and intimidation, novice black market criminal Emily (Aubrey Plaza) rises to the occasion as seen in director John Patton Ford’s excellent debut feature, “Emily the Criminal.” Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment.

These are the principles that Emily is learning as her odyssey progresses, even if she’s not consciously aware of them or the process of which they’re a part. Considering where she begins – as a victim of a rigged system in which she has unwittingly allowed herself to become and remain trapped – she faces a tall order to rid herself of the burdens she’s saddled with. And the more the screws are tightened, the more desperate she becomes to find a way out of her circumstances. However, she gradually learns that she’s not going to be able to free herself by playing by the rules that have kept her stuck. She eventually realizes that, if she’s to escape this cage, she must write her own rules, ones that work to her favor, even if that means going against standard accepted practices.

And, considering what she’s long been up against, many might readily observe, “Who can blame her?” She’s been held back and taken advantage of in ways that have made it virtually impossible for her to break free and move forward. At the same time, however, one still can’t help but question some of her choices, decisions that could leave her with even bigger problems to solve, with even more dire consequences awaiting her. Her creations might liberate her from her current circumstances, but they could potentially manifest other, more troubling conditions requiring even greater materialization efforts to absolve herself down the road. Her story thus serves up a powerful cautionary tale, one that could help her out in the short run but that could significantly up the ante for the long term. It’s a potentially puzzling conundrum that clearly requires her to pick her solutions – and their underlying thoughts, beliefs and intents – carefully.

All of this raises important issues related to responsibility. As the creators of our existence, we’re the ones responsible for how it unfolds, for better or worse. The choices we make with regard to what we manifest – and how we respond to it – carry consequences for which we are ultimately accountable. We should never lose sight of that, either, especially if we focus on the outcomes of our creations to the exclusion of the side effects that may accompany them.

The impact of such fallacious thinking can be felt in several ways in this story. Emily’s rule-bending actions could work to her benefit, or they could become riddled with hazards that are impossible to recover from. At the same time, those who created the conditions that ensnared Emily in her dilemma also bear some responsibility for how affairs have played out. Those who came up with the rules regarding her loan repayment obligations, her employability prospects and the impact of her criminal record all contributed to creating the circumstances that have made Emily the person she has become. Indeed, responsibility truly cuts both ways; if we wish to avoid the kinds of problems on display here – and, regrettably, in the real world at large these days, too – then efforts must be made on both sides to prevent, or at least mitigate, their emergence in the first place.

Emily’s story should thus serve as a powerful life lesson for those on both sides of table in this scenario. That’s particularly true where it comes to the agendas – and the beliefs underlying them – that have created the conditions present in this all-too-familiar narrative. When looked at logically, it all seems so patently absurd and intrinsically unnecessary. So why do we continue to pursue such avenues of existence? That’s an excellent question, one that maybe we should all ask ourselves a little more often – and decidedly more thoughtfully. To do less, one might argue, would be … criminal.

Given the level of graft, corruption and manipulation in contemporary society, it often seems like the only way to get ahead is to cheat, even if it means breaking the law. The age-old wisdom of working hard, playing by the rules and being fair seems “quaint” to many, especially among many of today’s young adults, who feel as though they’ve been saddled with insurmountable debt from dubious lending practices like those associated with burdening student loans. But what is one to do when the old rules simply don’t work and a new solution is needed to break out of financial bondage?

Those are the questions raised in this taut new thriller about a young woman torn between following her principles and being practical in the face of staggering odds. Writer-director John Patton Ford’s debut feature addresses these issues head-on in a straight-up drama about what desperation can prompt us to do when we feel we’re running out of conventional options. The film provides a positively superb showcase for actress Aubrey Plaza in her award-worthy performance as the beleaguered protagonist, who finds it surprisingly easy to turn to what many older viewers might see as a series of questionable and unethical choices, despite the fact that she often sees no other way out of her circumstances – and the troubling path that they set her on for the future. Some may also see some of the narrative’s developments as a little far-fetched, but one simultaneously can’t help but wonder what we would do if we found ourselves in the title character’s shoes, a notion effectively brought front and center through the film’s writing, acting and direction. This surprisingly thoughtful offering dressed up as a somewhat conventional crime drama makes for an intriguing fusion of genres that will have you on the edge of your seat for its economical and always-engaging 1:37:00 runtime. Don’t sell this one short; it may not be widely known, but it’s well worth a look. The film is currently playing theatrically.

It’s unfortunate that getting square these days often requires a certain degree of getting even. As we move into what we hope will be more enlightened times, hurdles like these need to be overcome. But, if we’re to succeed, we need to take as much of a look at how we set the rules as we do in determining the consequences of breaking them. These decisions indeed represent hard choices for hard times, and the challenges in adjusting them lie with the parties on both sides in these scenarios. The question in this is, “Do we have the will to carry out this task?” Much depends on what we believe and our willingness to follow through on them. We can only hope that we won’t fall back on desperation, criminality or dishonesty to place us in jeopardy or on complacency, excuses or stubbornness that keep us locked in place – or potentially locked behind bars.

A complete review is available by clicking here. 

The Challenges of Transition

Life’s rough patches can be agonizing, frustrating and difficult, challenges that seemingly take us far afield from where we want to be. We often can’t help but wonder what’s behind such detours, especially when they appear to blatantly run counter to our hopes, wishes and dreams. What good purpose could they possibly serve? But, when we take the time and effort to explore them, we may find some hidden nuggets of wisdom and insight buried deeply within them. Such is the lot of a self-determined young woman struggling to sort out her life in a time of transition in the delightfully wacky new dark comedy-drama, “Queen of Glory” (web site, trailer).

Sarah Obeng (Nana Mensah) is trying to outrun her past. As the US-born daughter of immigrants from Ghana, she’s spent her life trying to tactfully escape her background and become a modern American woman. She doesn’t openly disrespect her heritage, but she’s looking for something different for herself than what most of her family members want for themselves – or her. Still, despite her independent streak, Sarah is nevertheless routinely subjected to the loving but firm nudges of her relatives to steer her in the traditional direction that they genuinely believe is the only right course – and that she shouldn’t even be questioning.

In many regards, Sarah’s story is typical of what first generation American-born children of immigrant parents experience as they seek to find their way in life. Having grown up in the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx, a predominantly middle class, blue collar neighborhood that serves as home to an array of immigrants of African, Latin and eastern European ancestry, she’s purposely distanced herself from her cultural background. This shift is apparent in her work, values and lifestyle. For example, she’s largely abandoned the fundamentalist African Christian religious beliefs of her upbringing in favor of a more contemporary perspective, a change that has prompted her to shed more conventional notions that she’s come to see as quaint, outmoded and out of step. That decidedly different approach to life is reflected in many regards, even her choice of career, having chosen to follow a science-oriented path as a neuro-oncology doctoral candidate at Columbia University.

Sarah Obeng (Nana Mensah), the US-born daughter of immigrant parents from Ghana, seeks to outrun her heritage and become a modern American woman, a process that proves easier said than done, in the outrageous new comedy-drama, “Queen of Glory.” Photo courtesy of Film Movement.

But the differences don’t end there. In addition to moving out of her childhood neighborhood, Sarah’s quietly been dating one of her grad student colleagues, Lyle Cummins (Adam Leon). As a married Caucasian man, he’s probably not what her family would expect – or approve of – as marriage material for Sarah, but she’s committed to pursuing the relationship, especially when he assures her that he’s planning to divorce his wife and resettle in Ohio. Availing herself of that added distance has considerable appeal for Sarah, as it will physically remove her even further from her past and give her the freedom to become the individual she wants to be.

As events progress, it seems Sarah is moving ever closer to fulfilling her dream. But that all changes when her mother, Grace, unexpectedly passes away. Sarah is suddenly thrust into a new set of responsibilities. She needs to make funeral arrangements and settle her mother’s estate, which includes selling her home and figuring out what to do with her mom’s business, a Christian bookstore called King of Glory.

Even though these developments take Sarah back into her old neighborhood and culture, she feels out of place. She’s been removed from these circumstances for so long that they seem strange to her. What’s more, she’s suddenly being required to handle tasks she’s never done before – planning a funeral, selling a house, and operating a business whose merchandise and marketing are totally foreign to her and her sensibilities. And, on top of all that, her plans for the future have been seriously derailed, leaving her up in the air.

Under circumstances like this, one might think Sarah’s story would be utterly bleak and devastating. However, given that she now finds herself ensconced in a proverbial fish-out-of-water scenario, she’s beset by an array of outlandish – and genuinely funny – situations. Her attempts at coping might not make her laugh, but they’re guaranteed to do so for viewers, especially as matters become further complicated by additional new developments.

Sarah’s plans for tackling these tasks reflect what she sees as her rational contemporary sensibilities, actions that she assumes others should naturally agree with. For instance, when it comes to funeral arrangements, Sarah looks to arrange a simple wake in her mother’s home, one that resembles a subdued cocktail party more than anything of a funerary nature. However, her family members and mother’s friends see this as insufficient and insist on a more customary Ghanaian ceremony, an event characterized by elaborate rituals, extravagant “costuming,” and a massive spread of food, including many traditionally prepared dishes. It’s all new – and somewhat eye-opening – for Sarah, especially when she goes “grocery shopping” at a livestock market to buy “ingredients” that bring new meaning to the term “fresh.”

Then there’s the matter of selling Grace’s house, which Sarah goes about matter-of-factly, hoping that she can expedite the process to keep it from interfering with her moving plans to the Midwest. But that goes awry when her estranged father, Godwin (Oberon K.A. Adjepong), returns to New York from Ghana after a long absence. He sees the property as something that belongs in the family, even though his wife is no longer living there and the fact that he hasn’t done so in years. And, when Sarah protests, Godwin doesn’t hesitate to call upon his strong-arm patriarchal attitude to make his feelings indisputably known. Sarah sees this as yet another frustrating delay to keep her from moving on with her plans, not to mention the fact that it does nothing to smooth over relations with dad at a time when some parental support could probably do a world of good for her.

Being fitted for an extravagant traditional Ghanaian funeral dress is not high on the priority list of Sarah Obeng (Nana Mensah, right), the daughter of a deceased immigrant mother who struggles to find her cultural identity in the outrageous new comedy-drama, “Queen of Glory.” Photo courtesy of Film Movement.

But perhaps the biggest challenge Sarah faces is deciding what to do about the business. She has no interest in holding on to it, given that it holds no appeal for her. She sees its merchandise and mission as simplistic and corny, clearly running afoul of her secular worldview. But what is she to do with it? She also must deal with her mother’s right-hand man, Pitt (Meeko Gattuso), an ex-con festooned in a plethora of tattoos who dabbles in making pastries laced with special ingredients and drops less-than-subtle hints that he’d like to take over the business. Sarah is somewhat puzzled by his interest in the bookstore, sensing that he doesn’t seem like the type to run an operation like this. But he recognizes the role it – and he – plays in fulfilling the needs of the neighborhood, whether it’s for religious greeting cards or specialty baked goods.

As all of these challenges unfold, Sarah tries to remain focused on her future with Lyle. But, as delays continually arise, she starts to receive mixed signals from him, both about relocating and following through on his divorce. It seems as though everything is collapsing around her, leaving her torn about the direction in which her life is headed.

Will Sarah be able to create the life she wants, or will she be unwittingly drawn back into circumstances that she quietly loathes? Can she evolve into a modern American woman, or will she be permanently saddled with the expectations of her immigrant family culture? And, if it ends up being the latter, does that represent an exercise in backsliding, or will it turn out to be something that’s not so bad after all? Moreover, isn’t there room for compromise, a hybrid solution that combines the best of both worlds? Is it indeed possible for Sarah to have her cake and eat it, too?

This is where Sarah needs to assess what she sincerely wants for herself. Perhaps she’s convinced herself that she’s pursuing goals that she thinks she wants but that, in reality, don’t fully align with the sentiments of her true self, what genuinely resides in the recesses of her heart. If she conducts such an examination, she might be surprised at what she finds, particularly in the area of her beliefs, the foundation of what gives rise to her existence, a process that all begins with us.

It’s unclear whether Sarah has ever heard of this school of thought, but, if she truly wants to create the reality of her dreams, she needs to take the steps associated with it to realize that goal. And it may not be particularly easy, given that she’s obviously struggling to sort out everything she’s experiencing, including both what she expects to happen and what she doesn’t. Nevertheless, if our beliefs shape our existence, they’re behind both sets of manifestations. Some may find that hard to fathom, but, if beliefs underlie everything that emerges in our lives, that would include both what’s anticipated and what’s not. The trick is in figuring out how that happens and why – and what we can do with tweaking our beliefs to bring us more of what we desire and less of what we don’t. The outcomes will reveal to us what beliefs we’re really holding on to, including both those that serve us and those that don’t. And, based on how things are transpiring in Sarah’s life, it’s obvious she’s got her work cut out for her.

Ex-convict Pitt (Meeko Gattuso), an unlikely employee of a Christian bookstore, seeks to sort out his future when his employer passes away unexpectedly, as seen in writer-director Nana Mensah’s debut feature, “Queen of Glory.” Photo courtesy of Film Movement.

There are several steps Sarah can take to make this process go more smoothly. For example, she could make a conscious effort to look for “clues” that would help guide her in her assessment. Such clues most readily take the form of synchronicities, those perfectly tailored “coincidences” that provide hints about where we are, what we’re doing and where we’re supposed to go. They’re so attuned to our individual circumstances, in fact, that they’re often accompanied by those “aha!” moments we find so uncanny. And, given their impact and personalized meanings, they’re not to be ignored. Of course, the reason they’re so highly attuned is that they’re essentially coming from us, fitting reminders and attention grabbers that arise as tangible expressions of our own beliefs. Anyone who experiences such occurrences and recognizes the highly personal nature of them should embrace them and try to understand them, not look on in mere blind wonder or seek to write them off as pure chance. Indeed, there is no “coincidence” in these “coincidences.”

Then there’s the effort to cut through the various forms of camouflage that may be obscuring our view of our circumstances. These outward façades hide the real truths we’re supposed to see, often leading us to the wrong conclusions and sending us down the wrong paths if we accept them without question and don’t recognize them for what they truly are. These disguises are ultimately designed to help us sharpen our powers of discernment, to see the truth more clearly, frequently as a means to get a better handle on our beliefs, as well as what we’re creating with them and why. Sarah could benefit tremendously from engaging in such an effort, especially since she’s being bombarded by so much of this during this transition.

The foregoing practices are not only valuable in and of themselves, but they’re also important to something even bigger – the process of getting real with ourselves. If we’re truly to find happiness and contentment in our existence, we have to be honest with ourselves, examining, assessing and accepting our circumstances with impeccable personal integrity. To do otherwise could lead to serious bouts of self-deception that might take us a long time to overcome. To succeed at this, we must be willing to take a frank, unfettered look at things and use that awareness as the basis for moving forward. This could involve such practices as being willing to accept hard truths. It also would likely help if we could learn to laugh at ourselves and our foibles, something for which Sarah has plenty of opportunities available to her in this story.

Independently minded US-born Ghanaian-American grad student Sarah Obeng (Nana Mensah, left) struggles to make amends with her long-estranged and recently returned father, Godwin (Oberon K.A. Adjepong, right), in advance of their wife and mother’s funeral in the new indie comedy-drama, “Queen if Glory.” Photo courtesy of Film Movement.

We should also be willing to accept and draw upon the help that is available to us; we need not endure such scenarios by ourselves. And, fortunately for Sarah, there are a number of sources of assistance at her disposal. Most notably there’s Pitt, who genuinely seems to want to help her, even if his no-nonsense style sometimes comes across as a little brusque. Then there are Sarah’s neighbors, the Malinova-Thayer family, who often are willing to step in and help, even though they have more than their own share of comic challenges to resolve, many of which Sarah is able to assist them with. Indeed, one hand really does wash another.

Through these endeavors, Sarah comes to learn a great deal about herself, her life, what she wants and what she thought she wanted. She discovers how we don’t need to run away from our past to assert our individuality. Striking a balance between heritage and our hopes for the future need not be a mutually exclusive process. Arriving at a happy medium can have a considerable impact in shaping our overall outlook, perspective and beliefs on life, making it possible for us to unearth the personal queen of glory that resides within each of us.

To paraphrase an old adage, you can take someone out of their native culture, but you can’t take the native culture out of that person. So it is here as Sarah struggles to assert her Americanized ways and distance herself from what she sees as her folksy, homespun roots and the discomfortingly oppressive uber-Christian, uber-chauvinistic values of her family members. But Sarah’s past is a big part of who she is, even as a self-determining adult, and reconciling it with her present and future is something many of us – but especially children of immigrants – must do. These are themes effectively brought to life in actor-writer-director Nana Mensah’s delightfully wry offering, a delightful wacky exercise that effectively tickles the ribs of those of us who come from overbearing families. The deliciously wicked laughs served up here are reminiscent of those found in films like “Shiva Baby” (2020), “Home for the Holidays” (1995) and “The Forty-Year-Old Version” (2020). A few sequences feel a little drawn out, which is somewhat surprising given the picture’s comparatively short 78-minute runtime, but this is a film with its heart – and funny bone – in the right place, making for an agreeably amusing watch.

“Queen of Glory” has had what could probably be considered one of the longest roll-outs in movie history. Shot in 2014, the picture first started appearing at film festivals in 2021 and has been running at those events ever since. It recently earned a shot at a brief, limited theatrical run and, in all likelihood, should be available for streaming in the near future, but it’s an offering not to be missed, no matter how you catch it. And, for its accomplishments, the film received two 2021 Independent Spirit Award nominations for best first feature and for Gattuso’s supporting actor performance, offering more credence to this offering’s cinematic viability.

The frustrations we experience in life can be quite annoying, making us legitimately wonder why we’re having to endure them. But maybe their presence is intentional, distractions designed to purposely steer us away from life paths that might ultimately prove detrimental. It may take us some time to realize this, too, which could easily prolong the difficulties we undergo. However, if we look at them with a critical eye, we might just see that they occur to spare us greater grief down the road. And, considering that those “beneficial hindrances” ultimately arise from within us, we might come to see that these seemingly wayward developments are actually our own efforts to save ourselves. There’s much to be said for such forms of self-protection, proving that the greatest love coming our way truly comes from within us. And we should be ever thankful for that.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Copyright © 2022, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.