Review: Friends are there for one another in the melodramatic ‘If Not Now, When?’

Meagan Good in the movie "If Not Now, When?"
Meagan Good in the movie “If Not Now, When?”
(Vertical Entertainment)

Meagan Good and Tamara Bass have been working actors in film and television for decades (Good since the age of 4). And with the friendship drama “If Not Now, When?” they finally get to take the reins on storytelling behind the camera. Good and Bass make their feature directorial debuts codirecting the film written by Bass. They also costar as two women in a quartet of best friends bonded for life despite all the hard knocks thrown their way.

Hollywood has a representation problem behind (and in front of) the camera, so seeing veterans Good and Bass step into directorial roles and control the story they want to tell about the lives of Black women onscreen is heartening. The film positions Black women at the center of their own stories, and this authentic portrayal of the platonic relationships that hold them together feels rich and true, a celebration of a feminine community that becomes family.

However, Bass’ script is overly ambitious (perhaps because we’re so starved for these kinds of stories), biting off more than one indie debut can, or should, chew. Each of the four characters have more than enough story to fill a whole movie, so the interwoven story lines feel both convoluted and diluted. After a dramatic prologue in a New York City high school in 2003, we find the women coming together 15 years later in Los Angeles, at another moment of crisis: an intervention for Tyra (Good), struggling with an opioid addiction after a car accident.

Tamara Bass, from left, Meagan Holder and Mekia Cox in the movie "If Not Now, When?"
(Vertical Entertainment)

Tyra is a young mother to teen Jillian (Lexi Underwood), who relies heavily on her “aunties”: Patrice (Bass), a divorced nurse attempting to date again; Deidre (Meagan Holder), a choreographer with a young son whose easy-come, easy-go father is still in the picture; and Suzanne (Mekia Cox), who is reserved to the point of snobbery but also pregnant with the child of her philandering, alcoholic NFL player husband. That’s a lot of plot to handle.

The soap-worthy roller coaster romances coupled with serious life events make for a tone that trends toward melodrama, aided by a syrupy score and over-the-top R&B crooning on the soundtrack. Aesthetically though, the look is grounded and naturalistic. Cinematographer Craig Dean Devine relies on natural light and a handheld camera.

Pacing issues plague the picture, which feels bloated at an almost two-hour run time. But what “If Not Now, When?” delivers is a heartfelt portrait of Black female friendship that survives more than most marriages do: sickness, health, infidelity, infertility, addiction, parenting and even embarrassing choreographed prom-posals. The women are compelling, with Holder as a particular standout for her performance as the peacekeeper Deidre.

The underlying message in this portrait of lifelong friendship is one of individuality: that taking responsibility for your actions, prioritizing yourself and owning your own dreams makes you a better partner, mother and friend. Even if those dreams get deferred, detoured or destroyed along the way, when it comes to following them, this film begs the question, “If not now, when?” and reminds us it always helps to have a few good friends by your side.

Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.

‘If Not Now, When?’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour 51 minutes

Playing: Available Jan. 8 on digital and VOD