Special to South Florida Times
Raising Izzie is a Christian-based story of a middle class, black couple, Tonya (Vanessa Williams) and Greg (Rockmond Dunbar), who are reproductively challenged.
Greg, holding onto his faith and praying for God’s will, is optimistic that he and Tonya will have the children they desire. Unfortunately, Tonya lacks Greg’s faith; opting to take out on Greg her reproductive frustrations.
Meanwhile, 14-year-old Gertie (Victoria Staley) and her little sister Izzie (Kyla Kenedy) are living on their own, after their mother passed away from cancer. Before she died, their mother, Sarah (Catherine Dyer), had the bright idea to set up a dummy corporation, renting out her house while Gertie and Izzie lived in an apartment. Every month, rent money goes into a bank account and Gertie uses that money to pay bills.
Raising Izzie premiers July 21 at 7, 9, and 11 pm Eastern Time on the family-friendly cable network gmc, former the Gospel Music Channel.
Director Roger Robb, who is executive vice president of Tyler Perry Studios, and directed episodes of Meet the Browns and House of Payne, gives his target audience a film they can watch with their families. After all, Raising Izzie was created for a family-oriented channel and can only get so dramatic.
David Conley, whose script won the gmc screenwriting challenge at the 2011 American Black Film Festival (ABFF), returned to preview the film for 2012 ABFF audiences last month in Miami.
Conley is good at keeping the character dialogue fresh. However, when it comes to plot, there’s a lot to be desired. The film, while it is faith-based, lacks grit. There isn’t enough drama or conflict for this story to really be heart-wrenching. It’s too safe for a drama.
It’s hard to decide whether the fact that Izzie and Gertie lasted a whole year without their mother is too far-fetched to be believed, or just a stroke of screenwriting genius.
Aside from that implausible plot point, Conley does try to bring some validity to the story by having Gertie’s teacher, who happens to be Tonya, poke around and question the absence of Sarah. Once Tonya finds out that Gertie and Izzie are without adult supervision, Tonya promptly moves Gertie and Izzie into her house.
Therein lies the crux of the story, which is so apparent, that the second hour of the film may not be worth watching. No one wants to sit through an entire film or story when they already know the ending. Even people who hate surprises like a good twist at the end. Alas, it never comes.
Raising Izzie plays so neatly that there isn’t much room to really believe that these characters need to regain lost faith. It’s obvious that they have and will regain faith. But there is no conflict to build any kind of suspense that the story will not become more than just a faith-based television movie with lukewarm performances.
Dunbar’s Greg is the glue that holds his new family together. Using his faith and his instant connection with Izzie, the put-upon husband quickly becomes the father he was destined to be. Though he delivers a decent performance, Dunbar could have dialed up his persona a little more.
Williams’ Tonya is a woman with attitudinal problems. Williams plays her as a no-nonsense person who gets really catty whenever she feels like it. My guess is Tonya’s bad attitude was Conley’s way of adding conflict to his script so that his audience wouldn’t get bored.
Staley as Gertie, with the weight of the world on her shoulders, tries to give it her all. But it’s hard not to imagine that Staley would have shown brighter with the help of better material.
Little Kenedy as the titular Izzie gives a stellar performance. She steals the show with her great comedic timing and ability to be adorable. Surely, this will not be the last that we see of Kenedy; talent like hers is hard to come by.
All said, those looking for a family-friendly film to get into on a Saturday night will find what they’re looking for on gmc.