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.


18 02 2015

HitsHits” begins with a title card that recalls the one preceding 2013’s “American Hustle.”  This one says, “Based on a true story … that hasn’t happened yet.”  In other words, it marks writer/director David Cross’ way of saying that he wants to kvetch endlessly about the present day under the guise of satirization.

Maybe I’m still a little bit defensive about that horrendous TIME Magazine cover calling millennials “The Me Me Me Generation,” as if the generations before us have a spotless record and never posed any worry for their parents.  Nonetheless, I cannot help but get annoyed by vast generalizations about the youth these days as disgusting, device-addicted narcissists.  It is certainly true of many people, and I will not deny it; the world just needs some positive images of us.

That virality is one of the chief virtues of our society is certainly no secret, nor is the triumph of fame over hard-earned success.  Cross, though, seems to act as if he is delivering a message sent from heaven to enlighten us idiots.  “Hits” aims to pick only the lowest hanging fruit and juice it for cheap laughs.  (At least he picks up on an equally ludicrous breed, the self-righteous Gen X social media activist.)

Beyond the handicap of simply recapitulating the obvious, Cross’ first foray into feature filmmaking just cannot sustain its 90 minute runtime.  The characters that populate his ridiculous universe scarcely possess the depth for a comedy sketch; expecting them to remain entertaining and engaging for an entire movie is preposterous.  They might work well for a web series, however, if Cross could add some depth of thought to an only slightly revamped stereotype of the vapid fame-seeker.   C2stars