Despite what you may think, families don’t exactly have a slew of entertainment choices when it comes to finding both palatable and inoffensive programming on the boob tube these days. Sure, there’s a wealth of reality programming, but most of those seem to be populated by characters you wouldn’t exactly want to live with much less have you child taking his or her lifestyle cues from. Heck, even some of the cartoons on any given channel seem to be written more for adults than kids these days, so what’s a mom and dad to do when they want to provide their children with something of substance? Of quality? Of values?
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Gertrude and Izzie Nash are sisters sharing a secret: their mother passed away from cancer over a year ago, and, instead of being split apart by the state’s protective services and placed in different families, they’ve managed to stay off anyone’s radar by living alone in an apartment set-up by their ailing mother. However, an accidental fire throws their lives into chaos, but a chance encounter with Gerty’s teacher (played by Vanessa Williams) and her faith-conscious husband (the affable and reliable Rockmond Dunbar) presents them with a chance they never imagined they’d have again: a family.
RAISING IZZIE is the kind of film that doesn’t seem to find much of an audience these days. Flicks involving family values and issues of faith struggle to find respectable viewership – if they find any at all – especially when so many channels are overflowing with gritty adult dramas or reality schlock. That’s so surprising to me because, despite what Hollywood would have you believe, the themes at the story’s core remain part and parcel of the mainstream American experience – who doesn’t want a loving, caring mother or father?
If anything, that could be because so many family films are populated by somewhat safe, saccharin choices, and IZZIE is no different. The presentation has a decidedly ‘tender’ perspective, not one uncommon to the series of ‘AfterSchool Specials’ one network produced in the 1980’s. The scripted dialogue remains tame, the performances aren’t anything necessarily cutting edge (though charming), and it’s all packaged and promoted with bright lights and big suburbs. I think the reality of situations involving broken families like that explored here is probably a bit less Hollywood and a bit more ‘back alley,’ and those sentiments wouldn’t quite ‘gel’ with IZZIE’s sunny skies and squeaky-clean interiors.
Still, there’s solid charm and some wonderful acting chops on young stars Victoria Elizabeth Staley and her screen-sister Kyla Kenedy. It’s refreshing to find two young actresses who, if they apply themselves, can hopefully enjoy a teenage future void of sex, drugs, and violence (I’m talking about you, Lindsay Lohan); putting them alongside Dunbar (whom I’ve liked in everything he’s done) was a stroke of inspiration. He plays a terrific father-in-training who has to overcome his own personal struggles when he suddenly finds himself trapped as the only adult influence in their young lives; when he turns to his faith to find the strength he needs to carry on, it feels richly authentic if not a bit formulaic for the needs of David Conely’s script.
RAISING IZZIE (2012) is produced by Bobbcat Films. DVD distribution is being handled by RLJ Entertainment. As for the technical specifications, the telefilm looks and sounds very solid consistently. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that IZZIE has been nominated for a total of nine different awards in several different film competitions (Black Reel, Image, MovieGuide, and NAMIC Vision Awards), and it’s won two – the Epiphany Award for Most Inspiring TV Program and the young Kyla Kenedy won the Grace Award for Most Inspiring Television Acting. Unfortunately, the disc comes with no special features.
RECOMMENDED. About the best that can be said for harmless entertainment the likes of RAISING IZZIE is that it’s a pleasant enough experience. That isn’t a bad thing – it’s certainly family friendly, contains solid messages about family and faith, and boasts a few modest tugs on a viewer’s heartstrings. Unfortunately, it never overcomes its ‘AfterSchool Special’ storytelling sensibilities, and those limitations will always keep smaller pictures from finding larger audiences.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at RLJ Entertainment provided me with a DVD copy of RAISING IZZIE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.