With a combination of sensitivity and insight, writer and director John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood) presents a fascinating portrait of an African American living in South Central Los Angeles that goes against the stereotypical ideas we have about 20-year-old men. Refusing to rush or crank up the drama with heavy doses of violence, the filmmaker gives us the time and the space to watch the protagonist unfurl his wings as a son, a lover, a friend, and a father. His main challenge is to leave the nest and set out on his own.

Singleton opens Baby Boy with a voiceover narrator stating that it is easy to see evidence of the infantilization of the African-American male by the way he refers to his girlfriend as mama, his friends as boys, and his home as his crib. Jody (Tyrese Gibson in a relaxed and convincing performance) lives with his street-smart mother Juanita (A. J. Johnson). He's unemployed and has two children by different women — Yvette (Taraji P. Henson) and Peanut (Tamara Bass). They support and take care of the children while he hangs out with his best friend Sweetpea (Omar Gooding), a firecracker just waiting to explode.

All of Jody's fears come to the surface when his mother starts dating Melvin (Ving Rhames in a rich and robust performance). She meets him in conjunction with her hobby of gardening. He's an ex-con who owns his own landscaping business. Although Juanita tells her son, "Momma got to have a life, too," Jody remembers that his older brother was forced out on the streets by another one of his mother's lovers and was killed.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Baby Boy is that Jody is infected with the all-American disease of entitlement: He thinks he's special and that everyone who comes into his orbit ought to cater to his needs. This attitude of superiority causes problems in his relationship with Yvette who feels unappreciated. "I do what I do, but I'm good," Jody says, admitting his sexual indiscretions but asking her to honor his attempts to be a decent person.

In a brief period when he separates from Yvette, Rodney (Snoop Dogg), her old boyfriend, is released from prison and — although uninvited — decides to camp out in her apartment. In a dangerous confrontation with him, Jody opts not to give in to his machismo urges. Best of all, the situation leads to a magic moment of bonding with Melvin, who admits, "I've seen it all and done it all to the full."

Without much fanfare, Jody realizes that it is time to leave home and take responsibility for determining his own destiny. We wish him well knowing his strengths are those inner reserves of patience and love he has already demonstrated.