In The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete, two boys spend an entire summer without adult supervision when their moms are missing in action. Mister (played by Skylan Brooks) is a tough kid who doesn’t take anything off of anyone and always stands up for himself.
Pete (Ethan Dizon) has been dumped with Mister and his mother, Gloria (Jennifer Hudson), because his mother, (Martha Millan) is so drugged up that she can’t take care of him. The boys’ problems escalate when Gloria gets arrested yet again.
There’s a reason why Mister is so tough; he has to be. Gloria, a drug dealer and addict, has been arrested so many times, that Mister already knows what to do when she gets arrested.
He makes sure he gets enough food to last him a few days or weeks and waits for his mother to come home. Only this time, Gloria is gone for the entire summer.
In Michael Starrbury’s heartbreakingly good story, we see two boys bond over a shared story of growing up with drug-addicted women who can’t get their acts together long enough to be good mothers. These boys learn how to take care of themselves and still try to hold on to what childhood they can when faced with insurmountable obstacles, like when their apartment was broken into after Gloria’s arrest.
They use Pete’s hamster, Sara, to entertain themselves.
Director George Tillman Jr., the same man who put together Soul Food and Notorious, takes audiences through the highs and lows of one fateful summer that changed the lives of two boys trying to make it until help arrives. Mister & Pete is also a buddy film, where the strong (Mister) and the weak (Pete) balance each other quite nicely.
Mister, an African-American, and his friend Pete, a Korean, are oddly matched but bring the best out of each other. Mister teaches Pete to survive and be tough. Pete tries to encourage Mister’s dreams and to be a better person.
Brooks, who has the acting chops and moxie to succeed in his acting career, gives a gut-wrenching performance as Mister. At first, Mister seems a little too angry for his circumstances, his temperament stronger than his waif-like, malnourished frame.
Then slowly, Mister’s layers are pulled back to reveal someone with a big heart, who just wants his mother to get her act together so that they can be a family.
Dizon as Pete still has his innocence and isn’t fully acquainted with the ways of the world, despite experiencing the kind of things that kids shouldn’t experience. Pete is also the moral compass that keeps Mister from going overboard. It also doesn’t hurt that Dizon is adorable.
Somehow, Tillman got his high-caliber actors to play against type, with positive results. Jennifer Hudson gives a great performance as Mister’s mom, who doesn’t talk to her son like a mother should, but always tries to make sure he has something to eat; even if that means doing some questionable activities in the bathroom.
Anthony Mackie appears as Kris, the neighborhood drug dealer. Normally, Mackie is the good guy. As Adrian Doorbal in Pain & Gain, even though he did some bad things, you still rooted for him. So, this type of role at first doesn’t seem to sit well on Mackie, then it does. I guess having a good prop, like a long beard, helps.
Jeffrey Wright as homeless guy Henry shows range, just like Mackie. Wright, a veritable chameleon, blends well into the scenery as a homeless veteran with a Purple Heart. Henry is just trying to get by, but the audience can’t help but wonder why someone who seems very intelligent is on the streets.
Lastly, Jordin Sparks plays Alice, a wholesome-looking young woman who used to live in Mister’s building. Now Alice lives in a swanky apartment and drives a luxury sports car, paid for by her married boyfriend. Alice attempts to come to Mister and Pete’s rescue, but chooses her boyfriend over the boys.
The most heart-breaking thing about Mister & Pete is not that it’s a sad story, but that it’s based in reality. Both children live the harsh reality that their mothers are addicted to drugs and have abandoned them long ago in mind and spirit.
They both would rather live by themselves than face the prospect of having to live in a group home, called Riverview, where the older children beat up on younger ones. The film begs the question of how broken is the system, when two children would rather fend for themselves then stay somewhere where they would get three meals a day and a their own bed to sleep in?