Until Death Do Us Part - Jonas

Isnin, Jun 29, 2009

#591. Medicine for Melancholy [2009]

Fate (and alcohol) brings two people together in this independent romantic comedy-drama. Joanne (Tracey Heggins) and Micah (Wyatt Cenac) wake up together one morning after a drunken one-night stand, the result of attending a late-night party at the home of a mutual friend. It becomes clear they don't know each other very well and after sharing breakfast, Joanne isn't interested in getting to know Micah any better. However, when Micah discovers that Joanne has misplaced her wallet, he stops by her apartment to return it, and they end up spending the day together. Joanne and Micah don't appear to have much in common; she's well-to-do and lives in San Francisco's pricey Marina District, while he has a flat in the rough-and-tumble Tenderloin and works with a group of activists struggling to make housing affordable in the city by the bay. As the day wears on, Joanne and Micah become increasingly aware of a genuine mutual attraction, but they also realize just how different they really are. The first feature film from writer and director Barry Jenkins, Medicine for Melancholy received its premiere at the 2008 San Francisco International Film Festival. - Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

Starring :Wyatt Cenac, Tracey N. Heggins
Director(s): Barry Jenkins
Release Date: Feb 4, 2009
Genre: Drama

Visually more sophisticated than the bulk of features to yet come out of the new wave of DIY independent American cinema, narratively smoother and yet still boundless in mold-breaking ambition, triple-Independent Spirit Award nominee Medicine for Melancholy offers a self-contained rebuttal to claims that precious, naturalistic dramas about the existential dilemmas of hipster singles are exclusively a white man’s game. But the most exciting thing about the film is that director Barry Jenkins doesn’t seem interested in rebutting anything, or in playing any sort of game but his own. His mission: to talk about what it feels like to be young, black and artsy in a city in which people who fit that description make up a minuscule fraction of the population.

Formally and thematically, Melancholy is, in fact, driven by fractions. African-Americans currently make up less than 7 percent of the city of San Francisco. Several decades of gentrification have all but whitewashed the city’s historically non-white communities south of Market Street; the few non-gentrified pockets still standing are under constant threat of being steamrolled by the luxury housing boom. To make that point visually, Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton literally drain the color almost completely from their digital video image. On first viewing, I guessed that the entirety of the film had been desaturated 93 percent to match the racial breakdown, but in Jenkins has said the level of desaturation actually fluctuates). The resulting image is soft and smoggy, mostly gray with pastel hints. Melancholy may be more committed to certain of the city’s un-pretty social truths than any other recent fiction film set in San Francisco, but ironically, as a sheer portrait of the city, it’s also maybe the most beautiful.

Jenkins wants us to know that, in such a literally colorless landscape, it’s a freak occurrence that our protagonists have met at all. Micah and Joanne wake up in the same bed the morning after a house party. They’ve apparently had sex, but have neglected to exchange names. An awkward brunch ensues, then a silent shared cab ride. Apparently embarrassed and certainly hungover, she storms out of the car when it reaches the top of Russian Hill, but leaves her wallet behind. He tracks her down, convinces her that they should spend the day together. The day turns into another drunken night.

As they explore the city together, Micah and Jo spend an awful lot of time talking self-consciously about race, even going as far as to argue over “what two black people do on a Sunday afternoon.” This is, initially, jarring, not just because it’s something you almost never see in a film not directed by Spike Lee, but because as a white girl, my knee jerk response was, “Shouldn’t black people know what it means to be a black person?”

Of course, Jenkins’ point is that, as if anybody ever really knows what it means to be what they are, these two certainly don’t, because for the most part, their racial role models are few and far between, and they can only define themselves against what they know they are not. For Micah, this seems to be Jo’s biggest selling point: she represents something he’s fantasized about, and like many of us would, once he stumbles on the embodiment of that fantasy he’s determined to hold on to it and not let it get away. But Joanne senses this, and doesn’t like it. The last thing she wants is to be wanted just because she’s the only black girl in town who silkscreens her own t-shirts and shops at the organic food co-op.

Over the course of the film, Jenkins subtly shifts our perspective, from Micah’s gaze to Joanne’s, all the while refusing to antagonize or fully sympathize with either. Somehow, by the end, we want to see these two kids cinch a traditional a happy ending. But Jenkins instead chooses realistic difficulty over the easy answer fantasy. A weekend coupling might work as a temporary salve for melancholy, but it never solves the problems it momentarily obscures. 24 hours after we enter the picture, we exit, carrying with us a perfectly molded portrait of a place in the form this fling.

review by : Karina Longworth [co-founder Cinematical Blog]

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