'When Morning Comes' Captures the Bittersweet Beauty of a Childhood Memory Directed by Kelly Fyffe-Marshall
Starring Djamari Roberts, Shaquana Wilson, Jarden Crooks
Published Sep 18, 2023When Morning Comes tenderly displays the bittersweetness of longing for a place or person before even having said goodbye.
The film begins with Jamal's (Djamari Roberts) widowed mother Neesha (Shaquana Wilson) scolding him for getting suspended from school after an altercation. She takes him on a series of errands, including getting his passport photos taken and measurements done for a new suit. We soon learn, alongside Jamal, that she is sending Jamal from Jamaica to Canada permanently to live with his grandmother.
When Jamal overhears this, he runs away from home and spends time in the company of friends and father figures in his hometown. They help him process the enormous move he is about to endure — but, more importantly, they demonstrate the warmth and community support Jamal has in Jamaica. It's an introduction to the beauty of the country that extends much deeper than its lush scenery. Knowing that he will have to leave this life behind makes the Jamaica we witness feel all the more rich, and we mourn it with Jamal.
Writer-director Kelly Fyffe-Marshall's decision to focus on a young child's perspective before immigrating offers a refreshing take on the reality of colonialism still felt today. The Jamaica we experience through Jamal seems to offer so much abundance; we question what kind of a "better life" Canada could offer, when he already seems to have all the love in the world. This is especially true as Neesha's struggles as a working class single mother aren't depicted much on screen, but her anguish at sending him away is.
We share Jamal's perspective in this way. A decision like this might not make much sense to a 10-year-old who doesn't yet understand the economic situation in Jamaica or within his family. By showcasing the value and joy in his life in Jamaica, Fyffe-Marshall emphasizes how the economic limitations due to ongoing colonial legacies are enough to merit Neesha's excruciating decision to send him away from it.
Despite its successes, a bit more flow in the storyline and less predictable dialogue would create a stronger emotional pull that doesn't solely rely on the film's ending. Moreover, some editing issues distract from the draw of the film's beauty. But the strong acting performances, especially by Roberts, and gorgeous camerawork by Jordan Oram make for a touching watch. Throughout the film, the camera centres on Jamal, drifting in and out as if a future Jamal is trying to remember these foundational moments in his childhood, with the colours of his homeland creating a strong cinematic effect.
Perhaps the strongest moment of the film occurs in the final scene, where the perspective shifts and we see Jamal's first encounters with Toronto through a camcorder, the snowy airport at night presenting a strikingly different scene from his hometown. Narrated by a loving tape recording his mother made him, Jamal's life in Jamaica begins to transform before us into the distant past as an untouchable memory from childhood.
It's a devastating moment that ties everything leading up to this point together beautifully, and showcases Fyffe-Marshall's immense potential as a filmmaker. (Photon Films)