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Overall Rating
4.21

Awesome: 42.86%
Worth A Look50%
Just Average: 0%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 7.14%

2 reviews, 2 user ratings


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Medicine For Melancholy
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by Mel Valentin

"Indie filmmaking at its best. See it. Now."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Medicine for Melancholy," Barry Jenkins' ("Little Brown Boy," "My Josephine") feature film debut, is, at least on the surface, a simple, straightforward romantic drama centered on two African-Americans living in San Francisco who spend two nights and one day together. On a deeper level, the dialogue (in "Medicine for Melancholy," the dialogue drives the action, such as it is) reveals the characters' struggle to find personal and social spaces for themselves without compromising who they are, even as they attempt to define and refine who they are. Encompassing everything from interracial dating, racism, gentrification, assimilation, and acculturation, "Medicine for Melancholy" is nothing if not ambitious. That Jenkins and his collaborators pull it off is a testament to both his singular vision and a pure expression of what used to be called the "indie spirit" in moviemaking.

After a one-night stand at a party neither really remembers, Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and 'Jo (Tracey Heggins), twenty-something African Americans, wake up next to each other in their mutual friend's or acquaintance’s loft. Hung over but curious about 'Jo, Micah invites 'Jo for some coffee and breakfast. While Micah pursues a connection with 'Jo, she's initially reticent to disclose any personal information. An awkward cab ride later, Micah and 'Jo part ways. On the way home, however, Micah discovers 'Jo's wallet. Finding her isn't as easy as he thinks (her license lists an old address), but eager to find and spend time with 'Jo, Micah begins to ring doorbells until, finally, he finds her. Still reticent, 'Jo resists Micah's advances, but agrees to spend the remainder of the day with him after running an errand to a local art gallery.

From there, they visit the Museum of the African Diaspora, the Yerba Buena Gardens, and one or two other locations before finding themselves at Micah's studio apartment. More conversation follows, some confessional, some political, with Micah taking a strong stance against gentrification (San Francisco has the smallest African-American population of any major city at 7%). Micah's status as a hip, urban, educated African American and assimilation also come into question. "Jo seems more accepting and, thus less political. Their evening continues with dinner, more conversation, a night out dancing, and more conversation. Oh right, and some lovemaking.

Structurally, Medicine for Melancholy follows all of the conventions of the romantic drama or romantic comedy, a couple that “meets cute’ (or not-so-cute in this case), a lost object that brings the couple together, the initial awkwardness that eventually gives way to affection and, possibly, the first stirrings of romantic love, one or two major complications, a break up or potential break up and, usually, an upbeat denouement (at least where romantic comedies are concerned). Jenkins, however, isn’t interested in letting formula or convention dictate where he takes his characters. Instead, he lets his characters and their inner and outer conflicts dictate where the story goes, all the while layering in thematic concerns without getting didactic (an accomplishment all by itself).

Luckily for Jenkins (and moviegoers), he obtained the talents of two charismatic, engaging actors in Wyatt Cenac (a television writer and stand-up comedian) and Tracey Heggins. Cenac and Heggins are strongly convincing as Micah and ‘Jo, inhabiting their roles with an ease that makes them all the more watchable. Jenkins also had a talented cinematographer in James Laxton, who shoots a desaturated San Francisco (with the occasional splash of color) usually missing from the Hollywood films made here. For San Franciscans, it’s a welcome change. For non-San Franciscans, "Medicine for Melancholy" will make you want to visit (assuming a lack of desire). It’s also a San Francisco Micah and, presumably, Jenkins want to see become more inclusive of African Americans, regardless of class.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17191&reviewer=402
originally posted: 05/06/08 02:14:41
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2008 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2008 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 San Francisco International Film Festival For more in the 2008 San Francisco International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/17/08 denny what small independent films should be 4 stars
5/03/08 Jacqueline Carpenter I wish I hadn't seen this one 1 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  30-Jan-2009 (NR)
  DVD: 27-Oct-2009

UK
  N/A

Australia
  30-Jan-2009


Directed by
  Barry Jenkins

Written by
  Barry Jenkins

Cast
  Wyatt Cenac
  Tracey Heggins



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