Medicine. Melancholy.

Posted on October 27, 2009

dear reader and whom it may concern,
chinaka hodge fell down a well for a eleven and a half months, and didn’t write anything for her blog. she suffered major injury from stone and water and darkness. she’s healing now and has a comprehensive plan for thickwit, including movie and film reviews, features on emerging artists, and guest appearances from the smartest women in the world. please accept this note and allow her to do make up work for the coming year.
sincerely yours,
the doctor.

you saw the doctor’s note right? thanks for understanding. do i have your permission to begin again?
cool. I’m back up in this.

what a pleasure to begin the blog again on this momentous occasion. such holiday. such pomp and circumstance. i can hardly contain myself. the ticker tape. of course you know what i’m talking about. the big release? Medicine for Melancholy is officially available on dvd today. gasp.

you haven’t heard of it? my word. apologies all around.

Medicine for Melancholy is the debut feature from Bay Area filmmaker Barry Jenkins, and easily my favorite viewing experience of the year. And if you know me, that’s a lot of on-screen hours. I’ll be honest and let you know that I missed the first three minutes of the film, so perhaps i’ll have to run a retraction after my (ahem, preordered) copy arrives. I can’t really imagine what would break my enchantment, however. Maybe Keyshia Cole and The American Dream singing a duet? Maybe. Probably not. I digress.

We follow Micah (Wyatt Cenat of The Daily Show) and Jo’ (gorgeous newcomer Tracey Heggins) as they navigate San Francisco on the day following a would-be one night stand. True to Bay Area sustainable sensibilities, they journey through the city on foot and bike, amidst a flurry of poignant one liners. I’ll do my best to avoid plot spoilers, while I try to seduce you, reader, into copping the film from Amazon right now. Best nine ninety nine you’ll ever spend. Here’s my argument to coax that Hamilton from your recessed pocket:

Medicine for Melancholy worth owning because you’re in it. I swear. Me too. This is the first time that I’ve seen an image of someone like me on film, and not in the simple representational TV One sort of way. Not like how my chest swells a bit when Jada takes a good role. And that feeling is nice, don’t get me wrong, satisfying. But what’s at work here is a different kind of sorcery. Micah and Jo are two of the most complex black characters I’ve seen on screen. I’m intentional about qualifying them as black characters because I think the genius of the film is the pronunciation of how spectacular and mundane it is to be a twenty something person of color, in our age and geographic area. Micah and Jo are the people I chills with: reserved and brooding, hilarious under our breath, telling jokes about Carter G. Woodson on the way to indy shows.
I mean, if you know me, you know that I’m all about my Saturday afternoon Blackbusters, but what a special, charmed thing to see a film bereft of absentee fathers, great debates, spelling bees, basketball teams and princely robes. Micah and Jo don’t do that much on screen — in a way that makes me feel vindicated, because if the routines of Jerry and Elaine and Vince and Turtle and Rachel and Ross are entertaining and important, why not the kinds of isht we go through? Aren’t our subtle tensions and conversations at the toll booth and clumsy mornings-after the types of human interactions that change audiences, even in the slightest?

I saw the film at Elmwood on College. Six people were in the theater when the film began. Or rather 3 minutes into the film, when I arrived. I made six. Of us six, two black and twenty-something. Everyone else middle aged and phenotypically white. The IFC crowd. Other Black Girl and I found ourselves laughing louder and before everyone else (similar to the experience I had watching The Matrix in Paris with French subtitles). The couple directly in front of me sat uncomfortably for the first two acts of the film, and bounced before the last half hour. Just before they left, the woman leans over and asks the guy if he understands what’s going on. He says it’s really pretty, but no. Thought it was going to be a different kind of movie. (I wonder what kind of movie he thought it’d be). And they sneak out, making eye contact with me in the dark theater as they go. Just after they skirt, I turn round and left to check in on my sister-in-cinema, and she’s too rapt with the film to peep the interaction.

So, what’s the divide? Please believe me that I’m not saying middle aged white movie goers can’t enjoy the film. (In fact, the film was recommended to me by someone who fits that exact demographic essentialism). What I do think is that audiences in general haven’t been primed to watch a movie where the key interaction is about the delicacy of intimacy between two young folks of color. Because the backdrop is what we’re all going through: economic downturn, changing climate, shifting neighborhoods and a healthy distrust for the institution of love. But Barry Jenkins allows these two characters to speak about looming concerns with the humor, expertise and insight specific to our generation and experience. When else has that happened? Maybe in Raising Victor Vargas. Maybe.

And let’s talk about color, since we’re talking race. Cinematographer James Laxton is a visionary. The film appears to be your run of the mill black and white, but every scene has a very intentional burst of hue or light that interacts with the dialogue between Micah and Jo. As the audience, we’re pushed to consider why red is in this frame, why that wall is more illuminated than others. Such technical specificity lends itself to an unexpected sensuality, livened by the uncommon chemistry between Cenat and Heggins. Such a sultry movie, but not over-sexualized. Intellectually stimulating, but not didactic. Funny, though you’ll never bust a gut.

If there exists a remedy for anguish, that comes in capsule form, I imagine that it goes down smooth and last just a little while. There would be no way of telling if I’d taken it, other than to look for the lilt of an eyelid, or the disposal of a smile. If there exists a treatment for sadness in cinema, surely it is this film– one that chronicles the ordinary, but pushes the top layer back so that all can witness the onyx beneath. Take a peek.

Buy it here .

6 Replies to "Medicine. Melancholy. "

  • dalia
    October 28, 2009 (2:22 pm)

    omg that’s the view from bernal hill at the end!

    it’s so weird seeing things on the big screen that is like, the intimate moments of your life, exposed….in terms of landscape….must be what new yorkers feel like every other moment

  • Maly
    October 29, 2009 (11:16 pm)

    glad to see hands back on keys … but still M.guility you dont know how to type. guess it never goes away. still love your writing.

  • sarah
    October 30, 2009 (4:25 am)

    i really, really wanted to go see that but my dumb boyfriend wouldn’t go with me.

  • tbs
    December 1, 2009 (3:03 pm)

    welcome back. dialing the local blockbuster soon as doors open to see if they’re carrying it.

  • I hate the city but I love the city. « looking post
    December 11, 2009 (10:34 pm)

    […] first heard about the film after stumbling upon Chinaka Hodge’s review (which is worth reading in it’s entirety, btw).  Since I’m not a poet by any means, […]

  • I hate the city but I love the city. « looking post
    April 11, 2010 (1:12 am)

    […] first heard about the film after stumbling upon Chinaka Hodge’s review (which is worth reading in it’s entirety, btw). Since I’m not a poet by any means, I’ll let […]

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