The documentary "25 to Life" is a coming-of-age tale with a twist: A Lothario becomes a married man, a fatherless child becomes a dad, and a promiscuous player becomes an HIV educator.
All of those personas have played out in Will Brawner, who as an infant was severely scalded and became HIV-positive after receiving a blood transfusion. Back in 1985, after seeing headlines about teenage AIDS patient Ryan White and his fight against his school's decision to ban him from campus, Brawner's mother decided her son's HIV status should be kept a secret to avoid social stigma.
But at Howard University, Brawner became a Casanova to gain acceptance among his peers. During that time, he had more than 20 sexual partners and recklessly engaged in unprotected sex.
When he finally came to his senses, he lost friends and alienated people by first broadcasting his status on a local radio show. He founded Haven Youth Center, a facility for HIV-positive teens, but he still couldn't get closure with an ex who shunned him for keeping her in the dark while they were together.
Now that so-called "advocacy" documentaries have run amok, getting made so fast and cheap, it's commendable for director Mike Brown to invest the time to allow a story to unfold organically. Brown spent nearly four years so that we would witness Brawner's transformation firsthand. Rather than the after-school special that this film easily could have been, we get so much more out of it.
"25 to Life."
No MPAA rating.
Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes.