Mickey Hardaway is a dramatic look into abuse, ambition, and unrealized talent. The Mickey Hardaway project started as a short film. And its success on the film festival circuit emboldened it’s filmmaker, Marcellus Cox, to expand it into a feature length film. It’s an achievement that gives Mickey Hardaway a real metanarrative quality to it. Mickey Hardaway presents the dark reality of failure that many successful professionals have suffered through. It's a reality that feels so common to those of us that have "made it" that we've become numb to its gloom. (Some people make it. Some people don’t. *Insert shoulder shrug emoji*). But Marcellus Cox uses Mickey Hardaway (Rashad Hunter) as an instrument to show that failure is not always your fault, and persevering through it requires a lot of support and luck. Talent alone is not always enough.
What Cox has done with Mickey Hardaway as a black filmmaker is truly remarkable. The fact that he has created a substantial work, of such high quality, in an industry where such accomplishments are still rare speaks to his talent, vision, and patience. It also speaks to the people that have supported him and the fortuitous breaks he’s probably received along the way. I direct you to the “You Didn’t Build That” speech that President Barack Obama gave in 2012, but I digress. The film’s main character, Mickey Hardaway, possesses similar talent, vision, and patience and could have achieved similar things, but his lack of support and bad luck doom him to fail.
The film is done noir style to effectively illustrate this point. Mickey is clearly the movie’s hero: He is talented. He’s resilient. He’s principled. However, by the end of the movie, he becomes a cynical man hellbent on revenge that is hard to pity. The movie’s black and white cinematography, save a handful of scenes, portends a darkness that will loom over the Mickey Hardaway universe. The film’s frequent use of flashbacks is a bit disorienting, but that’s on purpose. That, combined with the film’s intricate plot, helps to provide insight into the chaos swirling around inside of Mickey’s head. Cox smartly lays out Mickey’s supreme awareness that life is not fair, but does not let Mickey off the hook (entirely) for using that cliché as an excuse. Overall, Mickey Hardaway is a demonstration of great technical skill from a first-time feature length filmmaker.
I would be remiss not to talk about the film’s cast. Stephen Cofield Jr. plays Dr. Cameron Harden, “a world-renowned psychiatrist.” Cofield plays the role almost effortlessly. The way he guides Hardaway’s therapy sessions feels authentic. David Chattam plays Randall Hardaway and really leans into the role. He’s an overbearing father that wants everyone to know that he’s the boss. He’s also physically abusive and a crusher of dreams. (Gotta be hard to find a Father’s Day card for a man like that…) Gayla Johnson shines as Jackie Hardaway. She expertly projects the inner turmoil of having to be a loving mother and supportive wife in a household where father and son don’t see eye to eye. I’m leaving a few people out because I only got 800 words, but the entire cast of Mickey Hardaway is strong.
However, Ashley Parchment literally dazzles as Grace Livingston. She is the only supporting member of the cast to appear in color throughout the film and she serves as the perfect foil for Mickey. She is just as brilliant as he is, but her life just seems to work in a way that his doesn’t. Moreover, she is the light of Mickey’s inky life, and that captivates him. “Grace is wonderful. She’s the one. She’s sweet, caring, [and] funny. And supportive of my art career.” The genuine joy that Hunter imbues into those lines feels Shakespearean. And the way that Mickey and Grace’s relationship plays out is quintessential tragedy. And that’s not a spoiler because the movie starts in a way that would make Toni Morrison proud.
This was a difficult review for me to write because of how close to home some of the movie's themes hit. As a black person in America, life can be difficult. And not just difficult in terms of economics or social justice, but mentally. Toni Morrison’s book, Song of Solomon, kept speaking to me as I watched this movie because talent and success for the African American is a gift and a curse. There’s a chance you’re going to be resented for it: Read Mickey’s father. And there’s a chance you’re going to be exploited for it: Read Nathan Hammerson. Mickey Hardaway shows us how that quandary could drive you crazy…
Mickey Hardaway is currently running the film festival circuit.