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MEDIA UPDATE: Watching: Medicine for Melancholy April 26, 2008

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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UPDATE: 9/15/09: Since writing this, Medicine got the attention it deserved, including nominations at the Independent Spirit Awards, a small bit of distribution and a DVD deal (purchase here).


ORIGINAL: This movie was so good I thought it needed it’s own post. I already posted this on Facebook, but here it is again.

The film doesn’t have a distributor yet. Get thee to a film festival and watch this film! Below is an email I sent a reviewer friend:

http://www.strikeanywherefilms.com/: Medicine for Melancholy is the story of two twentysomethings who spend 24 hours with each other after a one-night stand, in San Francisco. The film explores 21st century questions of race, gentrification and digital connection so subtly and so well, it deserves indie distribution.

I loved it. I admit, some of this is personal. My interest, research-wise, is in contemporary realism, specifically focused on young people, and after seeing movie after movie of uninteresting white people, I have to say this was a breath of fresh air. I’m not usually one to complain about the preponderance of whiteness in a movie – heck, my top 10 fav movies are all predominantly white, with a few Asian thrown in – but for “mumblecore”-esque movies specifically, the imbalance is fairly pronounced. Not to mention that it was beautifully shot, and that, personally, this movie is very similar to the life I lead – so that’s a big caveat.

For me, the movie was more than just “black mumblecore” or “black Before Sunset” or anything of the other obvious film-historical references he was making (Do the Right Thing, She’s Gotta Have it, even French new wave, right?). It was a movie fundamentally of its time – in terms of black history, urban history, generational history. The conversation on blackness and authenticity is one that young black people like myself – especially those of us who listen to indie rock and have lots of white friends – grapple with on a regular basis, and that’s really only happened within the last ten years or so (to question the notion that “black” may be just a label is fairly new in the grand scheme of American race history; once again I could also bring up young people and Barack Obama). I thought the movie handled this pretty realistically– the conversations that happened around race and gentrification are ones that I’ve had literally dozens of times with friends, black and white, mostly black though.

Not to mention that the movie took the stylistic conventions of mumblecore – overuse of close-ups, handheld camera work, poor sound quality and sometimes stunted dialogue – and reinterpreted with a message of some social import. In mumblecore, the fact that people communicate so poorly (can’t express feelings, etc.) is somehow related to this general inability of people my age to communicate, which I don’t think is true. But in Medicine that inability to communicate (at least at first) has a whole lot to do about our inability to talk constructively about race and class, which is true, and it’s particularly hard for young urban, semi-privileged black people. It was also refreshing to see people move around a city and actually examine and assess its significance – as opposed to other young, urban movies in which the city is a mere backdrop (exception: Quiet City).

The narrative on digital media was brief but significant. The title character looks up his one night stand on MySpace before meeting her — her profile is titled, “Cahiers du Cinema,” and we later find out she makes t-shirts with the names of female filmmakers (the director’s, Barry Jenkins’, fav directors are women). While in his own apartment, the girl later looks up the guy’s MySpace. This is where she discovers his ex-girlfriend was white, a revelation he never offers (and never does) but subtly shapes the texture of his character throughout the movie. Such a small discovery, made through online media, and perhaps only possible through online media, underscores some of the films biggest themes (the lack of black people in the indie scene, the complex nature of any individual’s racial universe, the truths we hide from those we hope to love, etc.). In a world where we’re, supposedly, all performing all the time, it’s profound that online spaces add more texture to a person’s life fabric.

What a rich and simple movie.



1. FILM: Rising Indie Director Shows Us A Rare Romance « TELEVISUAL, a blog by Aymar Jean Christian - September 15, 2009

[…] indie filmmaker Barry Jenkins, whose first feature Medicine for Melancholy (my thoughts on it here, and here) made a small critical splash last year in the indie film community, not to mention a […]

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