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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Stella Meghie
prd Will Packer, James Lopez
with Issa Rae, LaKeith Stanfield, Chante Adams, Lil Rel Howery, Rob Morgan, Y'lan Noel, Courtney B Vance, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Teyonah Parris, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Chelsea Peretti
release US 14.Feb.20,
20/US Universal 1h46
Flickering between two timelines, this achingly slow drama explores two romances 30 years apart. Writer-director Stella Meghie knots up the plot and inserts so many distracting side characters that it's not easy to connect with. But the dominant love story has a relaxed, jazzy tone that avoids the usual story structure. Still, everything feels so wistful and heightened that there's little chance for real life to creep in.
New York journalist Michael (Stanfield) travels to Louisiana to interview Isaac (Morgan) about his momentous life. Pursuing the story, Michael returns home and looks up museum curator Mae (Rae), whose late mother Christina (Adams) moved to Manhattan as a young woman to find work, leaving the young Isaac (then Noel) behind. Michael and Mae begin to date, but Mae is still struggling with the loss of her mother. And Michael has just applied for a job in London. The question is whether history will repeat itself if Michael moves away.
There's some real emotion gurgling through these parallel stories, even if the movie seems stuck in first gear. Superb settings, cultural touches and gentle storytelling provide plenty of warm atmospherics, even if the characters, story and themes never properly deepen. Both of these love stories have their own obstacles, including ambition and fear of commitment, but the main issue is that Meghie writes each character as a person incapable of properly communicating with anyone else.
Stanfield finds groovy rhythms in his interaction with the likeably glib Rae. While it never quite sparkles, their chemistry holds the film together, mainly as seen in Stanfield's nonverbal cues. By contrast, Adams and Noel seem merely infatuated, perhaps because we know it won't last. Meanwhile, everything livens up whenever Howery is on-screen as Michael's snappy brother. Harrison offers some low-key charm as Michael's intern, who has his own half-formed courtship with Mae's friend (Jones). And Vance and Morgan turn up now and then to offer some gravitas.
There are vague hints of steamy attraction, but the connection between these two couples remains largely verbal, which leaves both relationships feeling more than a little joyless. While Michael and Mae have a rather standard (albeit sleepy) big city romance, Christina's journey is more about self-discovery, with Isaac as a repeated distraction. Because they rarely feed into each other, each plotline might have carried more weight in its own movie. Because it's hard to watch this without feeling like there's a lot more to both stories.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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