Foster Boy is deprived of emotional depth by choosing to become a predictable courtroom drama instead of an exploration of trauma of its title character.
Michael Trainer, a corporate lawyer, is forced to represent Jamal. The young man is in a legal battle with a for-profit foster agency that placed him in a dangerous situation. Initially reluctant to help Jamal, Michael needs to overcome his prejudice to help this victim seek justice. The movie is directed by Youssef Delara and written by Jay Paul Deratany, a human rights lawyer who worked on the case depicted in the film.
The white saviour trope is not the movie’s biggest problem. However, it’s certainly a symptom of it. While the emotional centre and social relevance belong to Jamal, we’re instead asked to engage with his lawyer’s story. In a move painfully reminiscent of Green Book, we’re once again asked to engage with the arc of a white man learning to not be racist. Much like in Green Book, we are denied a much more interesting story. Here, Jamal is relegated to being a cautionary tale.
Michael is a morally reprehensible, incapable lawyer. One, that we do not root for, even when he switches to heavy-handed moralism. Nothing about Michael’s arc adds anything to the real-life cause being represented in the film. The plot misses an opportunity to highlight the work done by lawyers who work in family law, in favour of perpetuating the simplistic stereotype of all lawyers being greedy and self-involved. But more importantly, the title character of this film is disregarded entirely, with his emotional journey featured on-screen only when suitable for the protagonist.
While the film attempts to convey a message of acceptance through the relationship between Jamal and his lawyer, this would have been unsuccessful even if skillfully done. It still would have taken away from Jamal’s story.
The horrifying act that should have been the emotional centre of the movie is never given a proper treatment. In its most jarring tone shift, the viewer goes from witnessing a graphic rape scene to the lawyer almost being hit by a car. This fails the movie in two ways. It prevents the audience from processing the emotional core of the film and it cheapens the hurdles Michael goes through for Jamal by comparison of the two occurrences.
It’s jarring how little the film focuses on Jamal’s trauma, especially because this is still used as the movie’s catharsis. We witness him rapping his testimony to a moved court. This scene, while well-acted, feels empty. It tries to round off a journey that was never given any screen time. The viewer is asked to assume that, given the abuse he has suffered, he must have trauma. That is the extent of the emotional depth of his journey.
Additionally, the film is simply not sharp enough for a courtroom drama. While the chosen topic is compelling, the dialogue is predictable and the way it’s explored does not carry any emotional depth to it. It’s clear that the intention behind this project was to educate, so the film ends up resembling the tone of a reconstruction, with some bland character details tagged on it.
Despite its faults, Foster Boy has some redeeming qualities. The actors do their best to make up for the lacklustre material. Matthew Modine and Shane Paul McGhie work well together and bring chemistry that could have blossomed into a memorable dynamic, had the plot given them more space. Even in their capable performances, the actors are failed by the script, which can at times be hard to watch. The final interaction between them is especially cringeworthy.
The misguided choice of protagonist causes Foster Boy to become a predictable courtroom drama, instead of an exploration of its title subject.
Words By Elisabetta Pulcini
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