Thursday, December 19, 2013
J. T. Gamble, a shy, withdrawn Harlem youngster, shows compassion and responsibility when he takes on the care of an old, one-eyed, badly injured alley cat days before Christmas and secretly nurses it back to health.
"J.T" is a simple, hour-long story of a young boy living in a New York ghetto, but it tackles some weighty issues. Kevin Hooks is an amazing, natural actor; he feigns indifference to everything in his life, but in his eyes you see his true feelings when he mentions the sick and abandoned cat he has found. Ja'Net Dubois is also great as his worried, exhausted mother, who is firmly mired in poverty, despite working many hours at a store day after day. She sees her son sliding hopelessly downhill into a life of crime, when he comes home with a radio he's stolen. This stolen radio provides the catalyst for the heartache that follows. Theresa Merritt plays Mama Meley, who arrives from down south to visit her daughter and grandson for Christmas, and she's so warm and down-to-earth that her voice can sooth any ill. Merritt was a wonderful actress, and a very under-appreciated one; she gives this show a very real and loving center.
J.T. builds a paradise for the cat, when his mother won't let him bring the animal home; he creates an oasis of comfort for his pet in an abandoned tenement, showing that he still has a huge capacity for love despite his harsh surroundings. This is also a story of a mother's struggle to be independent and support herself and her son, and how such a life can blind her to the suffering her own child is enduring. There is a small subplot with a kind local grocer and his wife; he provides the wonderful surprise at the end of the story, and his actions show that ghetto life has not broken his optimism. He still has hope, and through his gift he gives hope to J.T. and his mother. She sees at last just how hard she's been on the boy and is ashamed.
Everyone who watches this will have tears in their eyes at some point, but that's okay because "J.T." is, in the end, an upbeat film that will make you feel good. It isn't shown on TV much; the last time was 1987 on CBS when they were still committed to showing programs that meant something to young people. If you can find it, don't pass it up; it's marvelous at Christmastime.