Movie Review: “Maya and Her Lover” might bring her “groove” back

Longtime girlfriends can giggle and banter “You remember ‘How Stella Got Her Groove Back?'”

“You remember how it ENDED?”

But when it comes to “Maya and Her Lover,” we’re already thinking “She’s Gotta Have It Before She Turns 40.”

The latest from writer-director Nicole Sylvester (“Layla’s Girl”) leans more to the melodramatic former than the laughs-and-lust of the latter. It’s a generally frank and sober-minded essay on Black female sexuality, body image issues and the perils of dating not just somebody younger, but someone from another class.

That’s what hits Maya (Ashanti J’Aria) right in the face when she unexpectedly figures out that maybe unsatisfying sex with “potential” relationships — complemented with battery-powered assistance from the selft-service aisle afterwards — isn’t what she needs at this moment.

She’s a 39 year-old college educated Brooklynite with her own brownstone, a couple of successful business ventures — real estate, photography — behind her and nothing in particular on the horizon.

A “Daddy’s girl” whose demanding professional class father passed a year ago, her BFF Tracey (Faiven Feshazion) can’t bring her out of her ennui with tales of “exotic” sex with Europeans and can’t talk her out of Maya’s “old lady” clothes.

Then the distracted, over-familiar and “uncouth” food delivery guy (Shomari Love) comes on. Strong. The fact that he’s dreamy gives him a shot. The fact that he’s 22 suggests she ought to know better.

In a flash, Maya goes from “You couldn’t PAY me to day a younger man” to melting at Kassim’s touch.

The red flags are everywhere, and yet she persists. He’s Muslim, with the judgmental fervor of a new convert. He’s uneducated, not well-spoken and yet outspoken about all the issues, problems and self-destructiveness he sees in “Black people.” He’s callow and young and defensive about the age difference thing, entirely too quick to refer to himself as “a man” when she points out his youth.

He thinks she’s “thick,” which considering she’s touchy about her zaftig figure, isn’t a plus. He’s tactless, blurting out “You think you’re fat” and going off on sermons about Black people seeing themselves through judgmental white eyes, the racism of Tinder and the like.

“Your rhetoric is skewed and capricious,” she points out, and his swagger doesn’t let him keep “What’s that even MEAN?” to himself.

And yet, there they go. Even though she’s not exactly proud of this fling with a guy about half her age.

Sylvester doesn’t say much new in this “Stella” variation. She’s content to let her cast do the lifting and let the situations play out according to formula.

Love, a veteran bit player, makes this Nation of Islamist mouthy and faintly obnoxious, but tuned-in and woke enough to be worth Maya’s company. Barely. His boorishness gives their relationship an expiration date everyone sees but him.

J’Aria, in her first leading lady turn, internalizes much of what we’re supposed to buy into about Maya, the “Daddy’s girl” who forgets “What would your father think?” long enough to break out of her rut.

The leads could use a little more of the sass and sparkle of Feshazion, who plays “pretty and I know it” like she’s been self-aware that way her entire life.

With TV covering all of this ground via the series version of Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It” and the “Insecure” misadventures of Issa Rae, “Maya” needed a little more on the plate to play like a complete meal. Aside from that? Not bad. More of a “film festival” dramedy than anything you’d make an effort to catch in a cinema, but not bad.

Rating: Unrated, sex, nudity, marijuana use

Cast: Ashanti J’Aria, Faiven Feshazion and
Shomari Love

Credits: Scripted and directed by Nicole Sylvester. A 1091 release.

Running time: 1:46

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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