The title character of Rain is a quiet Bahamian girl with a talent for running. When her guardian-grandmother passes away, she leaves tiny Ragged Island to search out her mother in Nassau—knowing full well that her mother is mostly up to no good, if anything at all. Here, Rain comes of age —meaning she learns about the brutality and messiness of life, and about the ways in which we have to grit our teeth to find our dreams.
Dignity Doesn't Come Easy in Nassau
I feel like I almost did homework in prep for watching Rain. Completely unaware of the setting of the film, last week I read Sidney Poitier's autobiography—and learned of his childhood on Cat Island and then Nassau. Like Rain, The Measure of a Man not so much debunks as demythologizes the picture-postcard tourist vision of the Bahamas. Both Poitier’s book and first-time director Maria Govan's film paint a stripped down portrait of life on the outer islands, contrasted with the rough-and-tumble "real" poverty of Nassau. You can be poor on Cat or Ragged but still have dignity. Not so easy in Nassau.
What Rain encounters when she finds her mother is not just squalor. She finds destitution, amorality, and hopelessness. "Glory," as Rain's street-walking mother calls herself, is a drug addict who leaves in a neighborhood called The Graveyard —"You know…" says Rain's school chum Magdaline, who misguidedly aspires to be a beauty queen. "Nobody leaves." Well, as you might expect, Rain does find a way out, though Govan does us the courtesy of not spelling things out as clearly in the end as you might expect.
World and Characters Wholly Genuine
I'm assuming (perhaps quite a bit) that the settings for Govan's scenes are authentic, and that we are indeed seeing the Nassau that I read about in The Measure of a Man. Still, I had to do some research to find out that the major adult players in this melodrama are not themselves, like Govan, of Bahamanian descent. Not being from that part of the world myself, I found the world these characters inhabited, and the way the roles were performed, wholly genuine. CCH Pounder seemed only a little out of place as a small-time track coach, and Nicki Micheaux is not quite what I'd call a revelation as the addled Glory, but she does deliver a riveting and memorable performance. Irma P. Hall's bit as Rain’s grandmother is also solid.
As Rain, though, Bahamanian teen Renel Brown is just perfect. No superlatives needed, nor amplification, nor explanation.
I enjoyed Rain not so much for its creativity, "freshness," or daring (of which you may find plenty), but simply because it took me—in a convincing and non-distracting fashion—into a different and interesting world. Better, Govan opts for subtlety in many of the plot details (such as the backstory behind Coach Adams' rift with her own father, or putting the story in the proper sub-tourist context) rather than a sledgehammer. The information you're after, in just about every case, is there if you care to pay attention, but Govan isn't going to lead you by your nose.
A Legitimate Slice of Life
Finally, I must mention that the film is obviously (and lovingly) shot on real filmstock in which you can see the grain. I hadn't realized how much I have actually missed that in our increasingly digital age. Govan's stirring shots of storm clouds and crystal waters are all that more evocative for the graininess.
If Hustle & Flow, as just one example, left you feeling like you'd been conned a little bit—like the "hard life" didn't seem as hard as it should have—here's the slice of life you might be looking for... sans the hype.
Rain is rated R for drug use, sexual content and language. For about three-quarters of the running time, you might feel like you're in after-school-special territory. But that's intentionally deceptive. The story builds to an arresting and non-sanitized conclusion which warrants parental supervision... or at least awareness. There's nothing gratuitous or titillating here, and nothing most teens probably don't get exposed to on a regular basis; but the rating is warranted nonetheless.
Courtesy of a national publicist, Greg screened a promotional DVD of Rain.