Strive is the story of a young girl who is trying, against all the odds, to find success in her life. Growing up in the projects of Harlem, Kalani (Joi Starr) has to deal with a rough community, poverty, drug use, crime, and so much more. She is, in many ways, responsible for her family, especially when her mother isn’t around. Kalani’s brother is dealing drugs, and her sister is involved in a toxic relationship.
Kalani is a good student, with high goals, and a vision for her future. When confronted with parties or hanging out with the wrong crowd, she is hesitant and tries to stay away. But, she’s still a kid, and kids will be kids. Fortunately, she stays on track and continues to work toward Yale University after graduation. She finds that she can do this with the help of her counselor Mr. Rose (Danny Glover).
Mr. Rose is a voice, perhaps the only voice, of kindness that is used to lift Kalani up and to encourage her to keep going forward. In his role, Mr. Rose gives Kalani focus throughout the story and appears at pivotal points.
Strive presents a thoughtful story that brings out some great potential, as it dives into a narrative that doesn’t get a lot of attention in film today. It is a narrative focusing on the disadvantaged and their lack of opportunity due to socio-economic circumstances and race. And we need more stories like this. It is a disservice to audiences when they’re not given the opportunity to see and understand that which may not be familiar to them.
While Strive goes in the right direction, and Joi Starr is indeed the star of this story, the film still feels crowded and loses itself a bit in its various plot points. The scenes with Kalani’s sister and brother are of interest, but they take too much time away from the main character. Spending more time with her and her decisions would have been a better use of time.
Along with this, Mr. Rose should’ve been given more screentime and significance throughout the film. It’s clear that he’s an important character, and Kalani credits him for her eventual success, but we only actually see him twice. Danny Glover was not utilized effectively and the story would’ve been better with him taking a more present and visible role.
But, even with its nuances and oversights, Strive shouldn’t be missed. The message it’s conveying is clear and it’s an important one. Anybody watching the film can find the value and take something away from it.