by Greg Muskewitz
Shifting gears, but losing no quality in the transition, writer/director John Singleton advances from one of last year’s best films, Shaft, and returns back to the ‘hood for one of this year’s best films, Baby Boy.After the recent onslaught of all these wannabe retro-blaxploitation movies (e.g., Kingdom Come, The Brothers) Singleton does what so many of the African-American directors forget to do, and that’s to interest and enlighten/entertain all audiences, and without necessarily altering the content of the story.
"One of the finest films yet this year."
Not only is Baby Boy one of the most mature black-produced films I’ve see, but it extends itself into a prowess of maturity above most of the movies I have seen lately. From the get-go, Singleton lays his thesis out on the table telling us that this is going to be the tale of not just one black man, but why many black men don’t know how to grow up and be just that — a man. Our disagreeable but not dislikable protagonist is Jody (Tyrese Gibson), a twentysomething unemployed mama’s boy who still lives at home. He’s got two children, by different women (they’re his “baby mamas”), and commands and mooches off of them non-stop, from one to the other.
Jody favors the mother of his son Jojo, Yvette (Taraji P. Henson), with whom he spends the most amount of time with, and borrows the most amount of things from (like her car). When his young mother (A.J. Johnson) begins a relationship with an old-school hoodlum, Melvin (Ving Rhames), Jody is worried things are going to change. He needs to get a grab of his life, but doesn’t know where to begin, so he blames everyone else despite their desire to help. Jody takes a couple small-time jobs with short-time results, like selling boosted clothing (“It’s that French shit, it’s couture”).
Singleton doesn’t waste time pandering around with his ideas, but sets them forward and quickly into motion. His characters are all extremely well-defined, even if we don’t understand some of their motives for the stuff they put up with. There’s a strong message being sent out to the women who watch this, that they don’t deserve to take the garbage that’s dealt to them, and that they deserve better. But then Singleton gives some mighty powerful insight into other parts of the motivation (i.e., when Jody explains why he got Yvette pregnant and had her keep Jojo or why black men have become so babied along the way, they don’t know how to leave the nest). In addition to the message that it’s giving women, men are also given a reminder, or a hint, as to their responsibility. Some of the best wisdom comes from Rhames and the knowledge he brings from his past. Whether all of this is straight from Singleton’s head, or he has incorporated contentions he’s learned throughout his life from others, the words make sense and they hit a chord.
Rhames is one of my favorite actors from over the past few years (his Marseilles Wallace goes down immortalized in film history), and he gives a spectacular performance here. He is generally always good, even if he’s in movies that aren’t good enough for him; teamed up with Singleton, Rhames is able to pull off something even more special. Virtually newcomers to the screen are Gibson and Henson, both of whom not only envelop themselves in a strong rapport, but are able to handle some high-voltage scenes and fights with ease and (jagged) grace. Both prove to be quite talented actors, and while Tyrese may be most known for his music and modeling, he has a welcome place on the big-screen.
For those who think Singleton is simply returning to the ‘hood that he already covered with Boyz N the ‘Hood, you’re wrong. While their might be parallels, they are minimal to the way of life and the situations that they have been placed in. It’s obvious that he cares about these characters and that he’s trying to teach us something through them; his explanations aren’t preachy or brow-beating, but rather have a matter-of-fact strength to it. Baby Boy is definitely one of the most intrinsically thoughtful and palatable films presently playing.
With Omar Gooding, Tamara Bass and Calvin “Snoop Dogg” Broadus.[Absolutely to be seen.]
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originally posted: 06/27/01 06:28:06