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A stunning debut, “Mickey Hardaway” is a microbudget masterpiece designed for a niche audience that fully deserves mass consumption.

Mickey Hardaway

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The thought-provoking, intensely moving drama Mickey Hardaway isn’t a horror film — but it is horrific.

A haunting, slow-burning exploration of mental health and generational abuse, it’s powerful enough to affect the casual viewer but packs a vicious punch for anyone battling inner demons or trying to outrun the sinister specter of past trauma.

After a dramatic opening that makes us dread the story’s dark trajectory, writer-director Marcellus Cox introduces us to a gifted young artist, the titular Mickey Hardaway (Rashad Hunter), experiencing an emotional crisis during an especially low point.

Mickey has recently lost his dream job as an animator and is reeling from a devastating professional betrayal, the latest in a string of gutting disappointments and failures.

As we will soon learn, art is more than a career for Mickey; it’s a survival mechanism that helped him overcome the horrors of his past and promised a way out of his personal hell. Mickey’s palpable pain is compounded by the heartbreak of losing so much after feeling hopeful for the first time in his tormented life.

The only thing he still has going for him is a wonderfully supportive girlfriend, Grace (Ashley Parchment), who recommends that Mickey talk to a professional. Grace encourages Mickey to see Dr. Cameron Harden (Stephen Cofield Jr.), a renowned psychiatrist who worked wonders with her mother.

Mickey agrees, and it’s through these stripped-down sessions that his deeply affecting story is told.  

Dr. Harden begins simply, “What seems to be the problem clouding over you?” Mickey’s response speaks volumes, even before we understand the cause of his despair: “Life, life is the problem.”

Mickey recounts what it was like growing up in a house with a cruel, domineering father (David Chattam) and a loving but cowering mother (Gayla Johnson) whose fear imprisons her, making her unable to free herself or her children.

We see these formative years via flashbacks, with an outstanding Blake Hezekiah playing a young Mickey with the kind of tenderness and vulnerability that makes you ache for the future he could have had — a future he deserved to have.

Outside of these brief but memorable and hard-hitting flashback scenes, we spend most of the film as a fly on the wall, observing two men talking. The story is not played for dramatics but rather for searing authenticity.

We are getting to know Mickey in real-time, just as his psychiatrist is, and it’s a story told with a methodical deliberateness that draws us in as we patiently wait for layers to be peeled away like decaying wallpaper.

Hunter is extraordinary as the title character.

He’s a sensitive, deeply sympathetic, and intensely passionate man who is at once broken but yearning to be whole, aching to form meaningful connections but terrified of being let down again.

He’s believable and relatable, driven to overcome his upbringing at any cost but consistently denied the break from the universe he desperately needs.

Chattam is chillingly convincing as a man so full of rage and regret that he doesn’t know how to be anything other than cruel. His hopes for a better life were crushed long ago. He’s determined (intentionally or not) to ensure his son walks the same dark path, passing down self-loathing, self-sabotage, and the poisonous pursuit of escape via the bottle.

Perhaps he believes he’s doing right by his son by keeping him realistic about how miserable the world is so that he never dreams too big and never sees those dreams destroyed.

Mickey’s dad may be a monster in many ways, but he was made, not born. Broken people beget broken people. Some wounds cut so deep that they become blades, transforming from symptoms to instruments of suffering.

Shooting in striking black and white gives the film a stark and visually compelling richness.

However, it also emphasizes the film’s themes and helps audiences connect more deeply with Mickey’s story. It reflects his soul and how he perceives his life devoid of color: dreary, lonely, and joyless.

Despite his struggles, some people love and care for Mickey, like Grace, who offers a lifeline when he needs it most. The moment he falls in love with her is the only scene in color, emphasizing a period of unclouded joy and optimism in a life fully filtered through a bleak black-and-white lens.

Others, including a devoted teacher (Dennis L.A. White) and a kindhearted guidance counselor (Charlz Williams), are beacons of light, promising the support and guidance Mickey longs for.

However, the damage done is hard to undo, and Mickey’s profound trust issues prevent him from fully letting that light in. Any beauty is filtered through a prism of pain.

A devastating story of resilience without recovery, it’s an uncomfortable but potent watch.

This is far from the typical Hollywood construct, where good triumphs over evil, and suffering is merely a foundation for enviable success.

As much as we desperately want it to be, this isn’t a story about overcoming the odds and rising to greatness.

This is a story about real life and the heartbreaking ways the world can callously chew us up and spit us out. The film hits the proverbial nail on the head with such overwhelming ferocity that it will leave you shattered.

Sadly, in real life, you can tenaciously climb every mountain and still end up at the bottom. You can desperately run toward the light and inevitably succumb to darkness.

MICKEY HARDAWAY gets at the heart of mental health and the failures of the current system of care in the United States.

Ultimately, there are very few resources for someone in a real crisis. Therapy helps, no doubt. But what happens when the demons threaten to destroy you before they can be properly exorcised?

Mickey pleads for more time during his therapy sessions. He’s a man plagued by deep-rooted abandonment issues and the pervasive feeling that everyone leaves, everyone lets you down… it’s only a matter of time. When Dr. Harden must say goodbye at the end of every session, it feels like another brick in the long climb to salvation crumbling underneath him.

The film’s tagline is “How much time do you have?” For Mickey and others like him, there is never enough time to undo a lifetime of mental torment.

Despite being difficult to watch at times, Mickey Hardaway is essential —a story told with great sincerity and beauty that will make many feel seen and understood.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4
Mickey Hardaway is currently available to stream on Tubi.

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