Naz, with his sadsack eyes, is the naive one who can work Maalik's last good nerve if he gets himself in a bit of a mess. Instead of admitting that he caused his own mess, he's the kind who'd say "If you don't help me then you don't love me!" One of my parents used to be like that. Naz has a more chill attitude. They're both good kids and good students. You care about them and you like them. They sell lotto tickets and holy cards on Brooklyn streets to raise money for their college tuition.
The fact that they stopped and talked to the man was watched by his F.B.I. partner in a parked car. She know has them under her surveillance to see if they have terrorist leanings. They're just a couple of teen dudes in Brooklyn trying to keep their families from finding out that they're gay. But that F.B.I. causes drama when she talks to the nervous and non-street smart Naz. Basically, the two teens are guilty of having committed only one non-crime crime -- WWB. Walking While Black. It seems like these two young black males are constantly being watched. There are moments that make you angry. There are moments that make you laugh.
I arrived in New York in 1985 and I lived in Brooklyn for years. I loved it. I spent a lot of time in Brooklyn over the summer doing some part-time work in my old neighborhood. I knew streets that I saw in Naz & Maalik. I knew the subway stations and the subway train lines. I'd ridden them. I saw my old neighborhood in Brooklyn and I saw areas I'd visited. The movie felt familiar to me. It reflected life I knew and ordinary working class black folks I'd seen just about everyday in my community. The two main characters even refer to something that struck me over the summer about the Brooklyn of today -- more condos are going up to make it look like Manhattan. Those elements were nice touches of authenticity from writer/director Jay Dockendorf. He's not gay, not black and not Muslim. But he did live in the community where the two leads characters live. His two best friends were gay. Dockendorf writes about worlds he grew to know. By the way, the subway restroom argument scene? Totally improvised. Those two young lead actors are good.
When Naz & Maalik duck out of view on the street so they can grab a quick kiss, I thought "Been there, done that." David Edelstein referred to that scene as the two guys "engaging in horseplay." That sounded so 1950s. He'd have been better off saying "They tried to get a little sweet groove on for a quick minute." They're black, they're gay, they're Muslim -- and someone gets seriously wounded because of a live chicken. You have to see for yourself.
The performances by newcomer actors Curtiss Cook, Jr as Maalik and Kerwin Johnson, Jr as Naz are warm, natural and charismatic. They hold your interest and the actors work well together. There's an actor named James Roach who hits comedy home run in a bit part as a subway station bag man who rants about how much he hates the G train.