Movie Review: Medicine for Melancholy - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Movie Review: Medicine for Melancholy

Scene from "Medicine for Melancholy" Scene from "Medicine for Melancholy"

I saw this movie when it played at Theatre N. Sitting in front of me were three people about my age who had come to the movie together. One was wearing a hooded, University of Delaware sweatshirt. I wasn't eavesdropping but I heard him mention "Mumblecore," and unless you're one who reads Variety, indieWIRE, or Filmmaker magazine where this film made the cover, the average 20-something won't know what mumblecore is.

There's a longer explanation for mumblecore, but suffice to say that it's emerged as a genre amongst young, independent filmmakers, involving limited narrative, wandering character studies, and quarter-life crisis relationships where 20-year-olds fumble their way toward ecstasy.

I've screened about eight movies directly identified as mumblecore. Of them all, I believe this film, written and directed by Barry Jenkins is the best I've seen. It's also the most professional mumblecore film produced and the only one done by an African-American and featuring African-Americans in lead roles.

Not to criticize the mumblecore movies, the wave of them has not featured many minorities. A film that resembled a mumblecore but wasn't, which did well in its limited theatrical release, was Bella (2006). Like this movie, it took place all in one 24-hour period and focused on a man and woman who merely walked the city streets, pondering their lives and loves. Remarkably, the man and woman were Hispanic.

It's just two people walking and talking. It may not be as exciting or loud as the recent blockbusters, but it's the kind of movie any adult can love. It's certainly one that I liked. It's simple, yet it's interesting and relevant.

Jenkins' film differs from most mumblecore movies largely in part due to the way it was produced. It's not amateurish at all. Its direction and cinematography are much more professional and mainly traditional. It's not all handheld and documentary-style. Unlike other mumblecores, Jenkins' story also has a purpose, at least a higher one than twenty-year-old, white kids trying to figure out what they'll be vocationally and whom they'll do sexually.

Shooting on mini-DV and with use of Final Cut Pro and Apple Color, Jenkins was able to create a desaturated look to the movie. At times, the movie appeared nearly sepia-tone or close to black-and-white. Yet, undeniably, this movie is filled with color as nuance. There's color in story as well as in character, and that color opens up windows for dealing with cultural issues and questions not often addressed in cinema.

One question is the curious: What do two black folks do on a Sunday? Though ironically, the answer becomes the response to this: What do two black folks NOT do on a Sunday? In effect, you see two African-Americans doing something that you wouldn't normally see African-Americans doing at least not in a movie.

Jenkins' mostly quiet screenplay touches upon gentrification in San Francisco. The changing landscapes and demographics in the city to the detriment of certain people is a big concern. Jenkins is able to breeze between talk and observations of that as well as talk of race relations to the most natural, funny, honest, real and raw conversations arising from two persons trying to get to know one another without a whole lot of pretense.

Pretense usually comes up between a man and woman because either, but typically the man, wants sex. That pretense doesn't exist between the two characters in this movie because when we first meet the two, they've already had sex. Due to the drinking and heavy partying that preceded, neither have any idea who the other is.

Wyatt Cenac and Tracey Heggins play the couple, Micah and Joanne. There's a weird awkwardness between them, a silence that's deafening. He tries to ask questions and engage her. She's quiet and resistant. The cool acting and evolution leading to bike and carousel rides feel seamless.

It could appear to be a one-night-stand that goes on a little longer than it should. It's a warm and smooth love-hate relationship, a flirtation for two people in frustrating situations who lean on each other for comfort, a brief affair.

The movie is now available on DVD. For more information, go to:

Five Stars out of Five
Unrated but recommended for mature audiences
Running Time: 1 hr. and 28 mins.

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