Mo’ Reviews: ‘The Mentor’ Wants To Be Great, But Drinks Its Own Kool-Aid

Brandi Nicole Payne and Liz Sklar in 'The Mentor.'

Brandi Nicole Payne and Liz Sklar in The Mentor.

This film is publicized by Bunker 15 Films (www.bunker15films.com) . Bunker 15 helps connect indie films to entertainment journalists and critics in order to provide said films with press, something that can be hard to receive when you are a small film crew.

Directed by: Moez Solis

Written by: Moez Solis

Starring: Brandi Nicole Payne, Liz Sklar, Mike Bash, Michael James Kelly, Santiago Rosas, Julie Lockfield, Corey Jackson, Mary Ann Rodgers, Geeta Rai, Ed Gonzalez Moreno

Synopsis (Bunker 15 Films): Nilah Williams, a wanna-be screenwriter and Oakland filmmaker, wants to make her first feature but feels locked out of the movie system. By chance, she runs into her idol, a famous, but haughty female director, Claire Adams, and happens to land a mentorship for the day. 

Nilah’s lucky day turns nightmarish when a crew of kidnappers seizes Claire and takes her along for the ride. But in a play for power, money, and fame, the kidnapper’s plan begins to fall apart when their mysterious boss informs them the abduction has a secret purpose besides ransom. With a chance to escape, Nilah must decide between saving herself or her newly found mentor.

Liz Sklar and Brandi Nicole Payne in The Mentor.
Liz Sklar and Brandi Nicole Payne in The Mentor.

Monique’s review: 

According to Moez Solis’ artist statement, The Mentor derives its basis in some of pop culture’s most lauded artists’ checkered careers and legacies. “On my mind during the writing of The Mentor was frustration with famous artists, musicians, and filmmakers and their transgressions,” he wrote. “How can a filmmaker or an artist commit severe crimes against others and still garnish the love and respect of his community? Do the ends justify the means because he brought something beautiful into the world?”

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His film, he wrote, is “a film within a film, a meta-narrative that allows for thematic investigations.” Indeed, The Mentor does strive hard to create an environment that begs the audience to consider the politics and game-playing in Hollywood. But, The Mentor seems too obsessed with its own intelligence to truly drive its point about misguided (or even criminal) filmmakers home. 

The film is full of lines that don’t mean anything. Things about Werner Herzog, German expressionism, mentorship as anti-mentorship, films as anti-films, and a kitschy mention of Dr. Zhivago, ultimately don’t mean much to the audience. Unless, however, these ridiculous references are supposed to make fun of self-important film students who believe there’s only one “true” way to make art. Since I’ve come from the art world, I’ve run into quite a few people who believe that the more terms they know and the more they reference supposed “masters” of the craft, the more audiences should take their art seriously, even if it’s a bunch of hot air. 

Mike Bash, Michael James Kelly, Santiago Rosas and Julie Lockfield as the kidnappers/documentarians in The Mentor.
Mike Bash, Michael James Kelly, Santiago Rosas and Julie Lockfield as the kidnappers/documentarians in The Mentor.

That point becomes even more poignant since the main character of this film, Nilah (Payne), is a young Black woman from Oakland trying to make it big in the industry and wants to find a mentor to show her the ropes (as well as break her into the big leagues). In fact, what The Mentor wants to say–that anyone can be a filmmaker regardless of education, money, or status–is something I understand and believe.

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But it’s how The Mentor overstuffs its message with nonessentials that becomes frustrating to watch as a viewer. For the first part of the film, I was trying to understand what was happening. Like how Nilah’s “mentor” Claire (Sklar) would nonsensically talk about breaking plot structures to find “truth,” The Mentor does away with giving the audience any pertinent information they need to enjoy the film. In short, there were too many words that didn’t matter cluttering up the film’s simple, but straightforward, point. 

Also cluttering the film is Mr. Emu (Santiago Rosas), whose dialogue is just as distracting as Claire and the other bird-masked kidnappers/wannabe filmmakers. Mr. Emu talks in cliched Spanglish, but again, its not clear if the film is in on its own joke. Is it making fun of how so many films have cliched dialogue for Latinx actors? Or does the film legitmately think that this is good, authentic dialogue?

The film fails at giving us clues about its true nature. Is the film’s convoluted style meant to mock highfalutin art students who think they’re pioneering a new genre? Or is the style itself a symptom of the filmmaker, who might want recognition as a pioneer himself? I can’t tell. But the fact that the film takes itself a little too seriously makes me think The Mentor‘s stylistic choices were ones made with the intent to impress us. Unfortunately, all they did were confuse us. 

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