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Jazzy Film Review: Adolescent Innocence

Twi girls look at the camera outdoors in the film Jazzy

Morrisa Maltz bottles the feeling of adolescence in her new film Jazzy, a sensitive look at the fantastical elements of girlhood.  

Director: Morrisa Maltz
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 86′
Tribeca World Premiere: June 9-12, 2024
US Release Date: TBA
UK Release Date: TBA

The innocence of adolescence is an elusive feeling to try and capture on film. The conversations had between children have a certain type of magic that often is baked into a particular brand of nonsense. While many adults write children off as silly little creatures, the few who give kids the time of day understand the wisdom that comes when you’re free from any embarrassment that may come along with speaking your mind.

Morrisa Maltz (The Unknown Country) is the type of adult, and filmmaker, that understands the profoundness wrapped in childish babbling. In her new film Jazzy, she lets two young girls be the center of the film’s universe in order to make a devastatingly beautiful portrayal of childhood, girlhood and friendship.

Jazzy is the story of the friendship between two young Oglala Lakota girls growing up in South Dakota: Jazzy (Jasmine Bearkiller Shangreaux) and Syriah (Syriah Foohead Means). While the two girls are navigating the ever-changing friendship dynamics they encounter at this age, the one consistency is their devotion to each other. However, a fight between their mothers sours the friendship between the girls right before it is revealed that Syriah is moving. 

The strongest bond that binds Jazzy and Syriah is their disdain for growing up. While their views of adulthood could be easily laughed off as childish and uninformed, the girls actually share a very realistic view of the stresses we face as adults and the ways in which we lose parts of ourselves when we are forced to enter the “real world”. The two girls make a pact they unknowingly will never be able to keep: stay a kid forever. 

Jazzy deals with growing up and growing into yourself in a thoughtful, understated way. Throughout the film, with the exception of Jazzy’s aunt Tana (Lily Gladstone, of Under the Bridge), we never get clear shots of the adult’s faces. The focus is entirely on the kids, a choice that Maltz makes in order to reinforce the idea this film is truly taking place in the world that exists between Jazzy and Syriah. We can hear the adult conversations and listen when they lecture the kids, but while the girls exist in the real world they truly have no care to be an active part of it. 

A girl and a woman laugh sitting at a table in the film Jazzy
Jazzy (Cold Iron Pictures / 2024 Tribeca Film Festival)

Maltz is able, however, to show the audience that while the girls say they don’t want to be a part of the real world, they are becoming more and more curious about the freedoms that come with growing up. Jazzy, for example, sneaks into her mom’s makeup and tries to put it on. While at first, she gravitates to the things she thinks will make her look like a teenager, such as bright red lipstick, eventually we see her lose interest and use her face as a blank canvas for a crazy makeup creation. 

It’s in moments like this Maltz is able to show the audience these girls, once so adamant they wanted nothing to do with growing up, are developing a curiosity for the things only teenagers and adults are allowed to do. It really underlines that thought you have as a child that the coolest thing you can be is a teenager. 

When Syriah moves away, it forces the two of them to interact with the world they need to grow into. Syriah begins to open up more to the adults in her life with whom she previously didn’t want to spend time. Jazzy begins to get involved in a larger friend group at school, more specifically a co-ed friend group which leads her into navigating boy-girl and romantic relationship dynamics. 

While the film progresses to show these girls entering the next phase of growing up, it still allows them the space to regress into being silly girls with one another when they want to. More than a coming-of-age film where they are completely self-realized by the end, Jazzy is a film about dipping your toes into the next phase of life.

Maltz is very intentional in this, specifically ensuring that Tana is the only adult who gets screen time with their face on camera because she assures Jazzy that growing up is not a scary thing. Jazzy knows she needs to grow up, but stubbornly does not want to. She won’t listen to other adults like her mother that are trying to push her into maturity, but she feels a special connection to Tana who makes her feel like growing up may not be that scary. Tana talks to her like an equal and empathizes with Jazzy’s devotion to friendship. To Jazzy, the other adults simply don’t understand how important friendship is, but Tana absolutely does. 

Jazzy (Cold Iron Pictures / 2024 Tribeca Film Festival)

Everything about Maltz’s film is intentional and sensitive. She paints girlhood in such a fantastical light and recreates the feeling of being a young girl laughing with her best friend in a truly singular way. Jasmine Bearkiller Shangreaux and Syriah Foohead Means are able to access deep emotional depths in their turns as Jazzy and Syriah showing the awkwardness and boldness of youth. Maltz doesn’t dare change the way they speak or interact with one another to be better for a shot; she gives these two young actors the creative freedom to speak to one another as if the camera isn’t even there. The entire cast of young kids and their performances are what make this film feel so real.

With Jazzy, Morrisa Maltz is able to bottle adolescence in this one moment in time. She is effortlessly able to recreate the types of sensitive and stirring conversations kids can provoke in a way that feels genuinely youthful and not like an adult trying to write in the voice of a child. She shows the evolution of these two young girls, who once made a promise to each other to never grow up, through dreamy montages and emotionally charged long shots. The reason Jazzy is so successful as a film about childhood is because it puts children at the forefront. It doesn’t try to force inorganic moments or heavily script character arcs. Maltz sets the stage and then lets the girls take over, bringing us along with them on their journey to growing up. 

Jazzy premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 9-12, 2024. Read our list of 15 films to watch at the 2024 Tribeca Film Festival!

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