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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Medicine For Melancholy....

How do you court somebody you just met, but already f**ked?

That may sound crass, but it is the genesis of a film I saw the other night at the LA Film Fest, and a movie that has been making a sort of a splash as of late.

Medicine For Melancholy is a film that is interesting for more than just it's subject matter. It was made with very little money, but is shot in a way that steadfastly held my attention even before the storyline is shot in the most beautiful sepia tones and pinks, which has a way of making everybody and everything look absolutely beautiful. The soundtrack was offbeat, but perfect for each scene when played.

The film starts off with a couple waking up next to each other at what looks to be remnants of a party at someone else's house the night before. They seem to have almost no cognizance on who the other might be or what happened, but they do know that they are about to do a hardcore "walk of shame", as the white folks say.

What transpires over the course of the film is what happens when someone tries to hold on to something that really shouldn't have happened in the first place. The unusual looking male of the duo, Mikah (Wyatt Cenac, who grew on me more and more as the film progressed) tries to overcome the awkwardness by taking the female, Jo (a young Diahann Carroll-esque Tracey Heggins) to breakfast and sharing a cab ride. Though she tries to be game for a minute, it is clear that in her mind she has made a regretful and horrible mistake, and can barely contain the fact that she can't wait to bolt from him. She leaves her wallet in the cab, sparking Mikah to go and find her. Not really because of the wallet, but because he is a thoughtful, intelligent, and curious black man, and clearly not the type to go around sleeping with random folks and then forgetting about it. He needs to satisfy his questions and curiosity more than anything else.

What happens after that is a journey of what happens to them in the next 24 hours. I really don't want to give off any spoilers, and it would be hard to give plot points without revealing too much. It reminded me very much of the French New Wave films of the 60's, which usually focused on very few characters, usually a couple, and were much more filled with talky narrative between said couple than anything else, with lots of close ups and oddly angled shots. You would think a film about watching two folks talking and then doing stuff without talking would be dull, but in fact, in this film, it was wholly engaging and riveting.

What helped was the charisma of the leads Mikah and Jo. Mikah reminds me of men I have dated in the past--immensely smart, with an unusual and different sense of humor, low key fashion conscious with a quirky style of sexy. I guess it's no coincidence that Mikah is very San Francisco, where the movie is set, and where I'm from. Jo had a look of the French waifs from back in the day--she is luminous and you can't take your eyes off her, and she has an elusiveness that is maddening, but still makes you want to know more.

It also reminded me of a John Cassavetes film in it's cinema verite' style. For those who may not know, cinema verite' is almost the same as looking at a film and being so absorbed in it that you forget you are watching one cause it seems so real, almost like you are spying. The weirdly edited sound in the club scenes was also very Cassavetes; loud, rough-edged and real. Mikah and Jo find they are seemingly polar opposites--he being earthy and activist driven, she living in an upscale, art-filled, bourgeois non-black world.

There was a sub-plot that involved the gentrification of San Francisco (where us Negroes now make up only 7% of the population) that I watched wearily. The point was made a bit heavy handedly, but since it was one of the main reasons I moved away earlier this year, I know the filmmaker (Barry Jenkins) knew it was important to be said. I say I watched wearily, as I have talked about that very same subject many times, all the while knowing there wasn't a damn thing we could do about I said, important to be said, but a bit out of place in the story with it's weight--but then again, maybe adding to the charm of the unexpectedness of everything else in the film.

I'll wrap it up by saying that what I took away from the film is that we can never control who we are genuinely attracted to. "It is what it is", as Mikah liked to say. And if we see the situation clearly for what it really is, whether it's appropriate or not, and everyone is consenting, then you will probably come away with some rich and beautiful life experiences and may even help change your life for the better (or worse!). The trouble always lies in trying to make something into what it's not, or never will be.

Such is life in every aspect; it is what it is, and the more we are able to accept that, the easier it becomes.

Here is the trailer; will answer your comments later today:


Lenoxave said...

Outstanding review IW. I'd peeped the film announcement over at Cocoa Lounge and being in SF, I'd love to check it out.

It sounds like a mature, well-done and thought provoking film from what you have to say about it and that's enough for me.

The Obenson Report said...

It's about time :o)

Good review... I'll link to it on my blog if ya don't mind!

I'm sure this will make its way to NYC soon enough, and I'll catch it then.

What will be interesting to watch for is how IFC will market it, whom they will market it to, and what parts of town it will play in. Films like these rarely reach the intended audiences that the filmmakers often hope they will reach. That's not to say it's a film that can't be appreciated by anyone, regardless of ethnicity, because it most certainly can. But, I think it's vital that films of this nature play to audiences that look like the people in the film itself... 'na mean?

Anonymous said...

I've seen MFM and I agree with everything that you said about it. It's admittedly a "slight" film, definitely very "inde", but it resonates with you long after you've seen it. And here's a lesson for especially for black filmmakers Just because you're making a low budget film doesn't means that your film has to look like crap. MFM was made for very little money with a six man crew and it looks great. It doesn't have the super slick polish that you would except in a bigger budget film, but it visually interesting and solidly put together. I have seen WAAAAAAY too many low budget black films that are crummy simply because the filmmakers use the excuse of having little money to make inferior product.

One thing though is I wonder how will the black audience at large take to this film. It's not either the usual gansta' or "O-woe-is-me-Lawd-why-did-you-make-me-so-black?-or low brow Tyler Perry rip off. If MFM was a film with white characters I don't think anybody would have batted an eye. But because this is black film I fear too many black people are mentally stuck in a box and afraid to explore something different. I hope I'm wrong

Marvalus said...

Your writeup makes me want to fly out to SF and see this...excellent review!

I need a good movie, a good man/woman relationship that is not a Tyler Perry same storyline movie...this one sounds right up my alley...


Hey there!

Now THIS is a film I must see!

It has all of the elements that I love in a film!

You have also given me a new term to start tossing out on people so I can sound like I know cinema:
"That film is verrrry Cassavetes!"
(Then, I will watch people look puzzled while I act like I am too deep with my cinema knowledge! *LOL*)

Thanks for featuring this film!

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

Barry Jenkins said...

Thank you ALL for these thoughtful words.

It's much, MUCH appreciated


Anonymous said...

Sounds really good, something with a little more depth than your typical love story. Wish I was in LA :-(

Anonymous said...

Sounds like something I want to see, I need something unique and non-commercial.

Anonymous said...

I really think I would like this movie.

clnmike said...

Okay I thought this was a chic movie but it's more art house im sold I want to see it.

Anonymous said...

You sure know how to review a movie. Me and the folk are sitting here reading this and saying we're sold. We are going... We are looking out for it. Thx for the clue.

Anonymous said...

Wow! How would I get to see this in Atlanta?

Kem said...

So far so good. Invisble get back at me when you see this. I would like to feature your post on my blog.

Tafari said...

"How do you court somebody you just met, but already f**ked?" Umm damn!

Your breakdown has me feenin' I just email the site & asked when it is going to be released wider or DVD.


Anonymous said...

This is a great review. We are in the process of publishing a new community paper in the Los Angeles area. I would love to print this as well as some other of your posting in our paper. Would you please contact me with details/permission?

Be Blessed.