Aug 4, 2007

Roxbury Film Festival - Dispatch 2

Although its title may provoke knee-jerk associations among the core demographic for “Diary of a Mad Black Woman”, Roxbury opener “I’m Through With White Girls” proves consistently clever and endearing while perhaps playing it a bit too safe around the jagged ideological edges its narrative deftly swerves past. Courtney Lilly’s script doesn’t demonize white girls or play heavily into the mythologies blacks of both genders build around them. Miscegenation is Jay Brooks’ (Anthony Montgomery) only choice as he explains to his white pal Matt near the beginning of the film, because black women just don’t like him “I’m not one of those football playing, doctor to be, alpha male, talented tenth types they all like” he says while ogling white women at an indie rock club. Yet his non-committal ways (he breaks every young Caucasian woman’s heart by leaving a note and disappearing with his comic book paraphernalia) are clearly the root of the problem.

Jay mulls over a moratorium on dating white women as his more traditionally “black” and masculine best friend Drake (Lamman Tucker), soon to be married to the uber-controlling literary agent Julie (Ann Weldon) struggles with the class differences between his bourgeoise wife to be and his parents working class ethos, a standard relationship comedy trope which is mined for some choice laughs here. As the late twentysomething black comic nerd with a penchant for trucker hats with oddly bent bills and an absurd cigarette holder, Montgomery is an arresting comedic persona. He brings light to a host of retrograde spade stereotypes effortlessly while embodying an identity where race is not a defining issue. This is unusual in contemporary black themed films, especially one with as provocative a title as this one.

Jay is a skinny narcissist who doesn’t drive (in Los Angeles), won’t dance in public, and can’t stand the radio, yet, he lands a yellow skinned novelist Catherine Williamson,(Lia Johnson). Catherine can’t do public readings because of anxiety, is loaded with opinions and double entendres (plus her hair puts Ani DiFranco’s to shame), giving the film an equally compelling foil for Jay and neatly escaping the slacker-striver dichotomy that drives much contemporary romantic comedy. Where as the career women who half heartedly hunt down slackers in “High Fidelity” or “Knocked Up”, the apothesis of this current trend, seem to have little on their minds, Catherine is akin to the neurotic screen personas of mid 70s Diane Keaton or Kate Winslet in “Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind”.

Directorially, Jennifer Sharp stays out of her own way visually while providing a steady display of efficient comedic timing and direction that only amplifies the charisma of her neurotic blipster stars. The whole thing has a delightful and mischievous levity while it shakes down a number of racial constructions and myths with grace and quick humor, yet you never feel like the onion is completely peeled. What of these white girls – they just about never surface in the narrative, the filmmakers interested only in the aftermath of Jay’s pattern of behavior than in giving any of them representation heft, making the choice to pursue Catherine a closed issue. Still, while it doesn’t strive to reinvent the wheel, “I’m Through With White Girls” never feels like the cinematic hand me downs black audiences were being force fed a generation ago (think “Mahogany”) or a self-important, angsty, revenge minded Black romance/feminine empowerment picture like those of Tyler Perry’s or T.D Jakes and Michael Schultz’s “Woman Thou Art Loosed”, a hit on the black film fest circuit a few years ago.

Eddie Bole’s “Results”, a winner at the San Francisco and Martha’s Vineyard Black fests, is an uneven "down low" melodrama that features some competant acting but leaves one feeling that this fascinating topic deserves a more rounded treatment. Programmers at film festival we're flooded with "down low" shorts the past two years, as this particular phenomenon in the black community has griped headlines, Oprah's couches and four summers ago, the cover of the New York Times Magazine. A faithful bourgeoise black woman's nightmare comes true is the basic premise; a loving husband confesses late one night that he's had an affair with a man unprotected and the man fears he has AIDS. Whoops. Of course, to actually depict the affair, its immediate aftermath, the psychological conditioning the man must have undergone to stymie his lust for homosexual contact (since 11 he admits), this is all left under the surface or treated with speeches that could have been written for an episode of "Guiding Light". Still, bold choices shooting DV in extremely low light with dark Black actors. Some of the movie has a ethereal quality that is quite pleasing.