F.I.L.M. of the Week (February 4, 2016)

4 02 2016

Medicine for MelancholyMost romances focus on the passion, the heat, the sparks and the sweet nothings. Barry Jenkins’ “Medicine for Melancholy” is not a typical romance. In an effort to seek out diverse voices in filmmaking, I stumbled into this 2009 film. Jenkins is only just now finishing up his follow-up feature, “Moonlight,” set up for production and distribution by A24. How it took 7 years for someone to give him a second chance in the director’s chair is unfathomable to me. (Well, actually, I have some idea why…)

My pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” (First-Class, Independent Little-Seen Movie) is far more concerned with the silence between its would-be lovers. After a one-night stand, Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and Jo (Tracey Higgins) are simply not at the comfort level to carry out long conversations. They feel a connection, though neither is quite sure what it means or how to consummate that potential beyond physical intimacy. Picture a more awkward, grounded “Before” series.

But Higgins has more on his mind that doing a good Linklater knock-off. His film has flashes of Godard in technique and strategically uses color in a clever way that recalls “Pleasantville.” He also engages deeply with the political, not just the personal. The ambling about in “Medicine for Melancholy” takes place in San Francisco – and not the flashy ideal put forth in “Full House” or the one that gets destroyed in just about every action movie. Jenkins stares its gentrification issues plain in the face, even veering a bit into didacticism to get his point across. The conditions of inequality in the city are as much an issue for Micah and Jo as anything in their personalities.

As Todd Haynes said last year when promoting “Carol,” “Love stories need to have these obstacles between the lovers, or there’s no conflict or yearning.” Jenkins’ delicate handling of both the micro and macro level problems makes “Medicine for Melancholy” a truly magnificent love story indeed. The balance between the beauty of the pair’s flame and the ugliness of society makes the film memorable and impactful.



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