I admit, my recent engagement has inspired me with a weird mix of workaholism and counter-productivity; I feel more anxious than ever to take care of business but also find myself, at moments, daydreaming through life. I'm in love with my own love story, and inspired to seek out other depictions of love. My future sister-in-law recently lent me Medicine for Melancholy, the understated story of two young African American bohemes getting close in gentrifying San Francisco, and one of the most satisfying films that I have watched in a long time.
Like many independent films, Medicine for Melancholy requires patience. You are not waiting for eruptions of tears, car crashes, or gospel chiors, just following two people who wake up awkward after a one night stand but then proceed to get to know eachother on a deeper level than skin. They look at art, grab food, bike through the city, get high, go dancing, talk about things random and pivotal, like the Cosby Show and race. They live on different sides of town and hold different perspectives on the scenes of gentrification that they move through throughout the day. This allows the viewer to draw no clear conclusion about the film's position on the economic displacement of the city's poorest residents, and the cultural changes wrought by that. It delves, at moments, into an important conversation without being simplistic or heavy-handed.
I admit the thing I found most fascinating about the film was not the subtle deeper messages but the feeling that I was a fly on the wall of a day-long first date. Lead actors (and for much of the film, except for extras, the only actors) Wyatt Cenac and Tracey Heggins were so natural and chemical together, so beautiful in a believable, accessible way that I forgot they were actors. It was sexy and magical to watch them do that delicate dance we do around a person that we are digging but don't know very well, and don't want to seem to vulnerable in front of. It made my fiance and I think about our first days of getting to know eachother, and look with wonder at the way we are still learning eachother, peeling off more layers as we trust more and more that the secrets and fears within will be safe.
This is what good film, like good literature should do. When you put it down, you should talk about it beyond repeating the memorable punch lines or retelling the melodramatic events. It should change you in a very small way so that you see your own world in a new light. I just got back from seeing Sparkle with my family. I loved the music, it was great to see Whitney on-screen, and Jordan Sparks was bright-eyed and beautiful (if not a great actress) but there is just no comparison. Everything about Sparkle was bigger: budget, actors, distribution, promo, crying screaming moments (and don't forget the Tyler Perryesque climax of the gospel chior) but it didn't pack half the writing, character development, intelligence, and real chemistry of this little San Francisco film few people I know ever saw. That isn't something that should surprise me anymore, but it never fails to be disturbing.
I go with my family to see these big Black films because they enjoy them, and I know I need to get off my high-fallutin' critical horse sometimes and just enjoy moments with my family doing the things that they like to do. But I worry about a Black audience that is being treated as if we are not very intelligent people. When I first started watching indie films, I kept waiting for something to happen. But it's not about what happens but how. If we can't appreciate that in our art, that quiet unfolding of a story, subtle revealing of a character, we are that much more likely to miss the small but so important details of our own lives.
PS. Oh, and soundtrack? Ridiculous. Sick. Funky. Unpredictable. And so preferable to that overpowering Sparkle score that made me want to go take a bathroom break every time something that was supposed to be important was happening.