Isaac and Jude meet up for a bite to eat in their favorite South London fried chicken joint. As longtime friends, they've known each other since childhood, but from the way they're dressed, their styles have diverged. And so have their lives: Issac has a white-collar job and is now buying a house in East London, while Jude has remained in their neighborhood, dealing drugs and struggling to try to keep a family together.
Joking and friendly, warmth and affection still flow between the two men. But as they catch up, they wrangle over questions of staying in the community, leaving friends behind and what it means to be successful in life. As they finally have dinner together, their paths may be taking them farther apart.
Writer-director Abraham Adeyemi's Oscar-longlisted short drama is a fraught but affectionate portrait of a lifelong friendship between two men, now at a crossroads in life as they face shattered dreams, hard-won successes and changing lives. Told as a two-hander interwoven with flashbacks to when they were boys, the narrative generates both melancholy and warmth in tracing how currents of love and resentment flow between the two friends as they grapple with the questions of home, loyalty and community.
The backbone of a two-hander is often the double helix of writing and performance. Both are solidly accomplished here, with a sharp, concise way of limning character and values through dialogue. The characters easily slip back and forth between the Jamaican and more straight-laced English, but the dialogue also contracts and expands the psychological distance between Isaac and Jude as they talk. This back-and-forth guides the intimate, handheld camerawork, visual naturalism and editing capturing the South London milieu that functions as a looming influence over Isaac and Jude.
The use of flashback in such an intimate format can sometimes be jarring in shorts, but it works effectively here to offer a contrast between the boys who are more simpatico in style and sensibility, and the men they've become, who make radically different choices from one another. Both sets of actors playing their pair -- Ivanno Jeremiah and Parys Jordon as adult Isaac and Jude, and Joshua Camera and Tyrus Mckenzie as their boyhood counterparts -- have ease and naturalness, as well as understated precision in hinting at the differences and tensions navigated by the characters. Those tensions never quite come to a head, but there is an underlying sadness for both viewers and characters in realizing that these friends may be slowly drifting apart, as their journeys and choices in life take them in opposite directions.
A prize-winner at Tribeca, "No More Wings" has an unpretentious, worn-in and authentic modesty in its look and feel. But the story is rich in feeling and thoughtful in exploring the sociocultural tensions it gives voice to, and in the end, its emotional impact feels much bigger and more panoramic than initially hinted.
The dilemma of staying true to the community while rising higher in life is a tension often navigated in many neighborhoods, especially as they rapidly gentrify. But what "No More Wings" accomplishes with compelling grace and thoughtfulness is showing how the boisterous warmth and sometimes demanding pull of community lives within us, casting a long, keenly felt influence -- one that feels like both a shadow and embrace, often at the same time.