Review: Know How

Overall, the film’s educational prerogatives tend to overwhelm its more interesting formal properties.

Know How
Photo: First Run Features

Blurring generic lines while advocating for change and awareness of New York City’s overwhelmed foster care system, Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza’s Know How makes an earnest effort to transcend its after-school-special trappings. Adapted from a musical created at the Possibility Project, a nonprofit dedicated to steering city teenagers toward artistic expression, the film features former students at the organization playing youth at various stages of engagement with the foster care system. Dramaturgically, Know How offers a lot of tragically familiar material: hungry brothers take to thieving and then drug dealing as they avert detection by the Association for Child Services; a brainy girl hopes to get into Georgetown before her father’s crack addiction brings the family down; two sisters, victims of sexual abuse, are separated when they enter the system; and two friends are tempted by substances as they attempt to fly right. Some of these micro-narratives begin in foster care, while others end there, and one avoids the system altogether. Know How elegantly paints a bureaucracy that moves in convulsive and often devastating fits and starts, allowing children to languish in broken homes or overstuffed group facilities before suddenly uprooting them to utterly new circumstances. The portrayal of these environments is uniformly ham-handed: One teen, moved into a group home, is immediately and relentlessly bullied, and her tormenters are cardboard villains rather than peers. Overall, the film’s educational prerogatives tend to overwhelm its more interesting formal properties. Along with being a sort of de facto hybrid documentary, Know How can also generously be described as a musical, as it breaks into consciousness-raising hip-hop and R&B every 20 minutes or so. As performed by generously Auto-Tuned nonprofessionals, the songs spin messages rather than personal stories; the better of Know How’s many, sometimes-connected plotlines manage to avoid this trap.

 Cast: Joshua Elijah Adams, Deshawn Brown, Niquana Clark, Michael Dew, Gabrielle Garcia, Ainsley Brownie Henry, Gilbert Howard, Lee Jimenez, Claribelle Pagan, Ebonee Simpson  Director: Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza  Screenwriter: Deshawn Brown, Niquana Clark, Michael Dew, Gabrielle Garcia, Gilbert Howard, Claribelle Pagan, Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza, Ebonee Simpson  Distributor: First Run Features  Running Time: 105 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2014  Buy: Video

Christopher Gray

Christopher Gray is an event coordinator for Frontier in Bushwick, Maine. His writing has also appeared in Tiny Mix Tapes.

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