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Micah (Wyatt Cenac) takes Joanne (Tracey Heggins) to the Museum of the
African Diaspora on a Sunday afternoon. They woke up that morning in
somebody else's house not knowing each other's names after a one-night
stand at a party where they both got very drunk. It's San Francisco.
They're black. They ride bikes. She was very unfriendly at first, not
just because it was a drunken coupling but because she has a white
curator boyfriend she lives with who just happens to be in London for
the moment, but she loves him.
The first part of this first film by Barry Jenkins, which is shot in digital video tuned to be almost but not quite totally drained of color (like the city, as we are to learn), with pale grays and very white whites, is sustained by Micah's efforts to make Joanne want to spend some time with him. He thinks they ought to get to know each other, and it's a Sunday. She's not at all interested at first. They're both hung over, after all. She lets him take her home in a taxi and then just gets out and runs. But she leaves her wallet on the floor. To go back and find her it takes a search, on his bike, across town, because the address on her license isn't current. The film is also sustained by being very specifically shot in San Francisco. When Joanne goes to a gallery to run an errand it's a very specific gallery. The Museum of the African Diaspora is the Museum of the African Diaspora. The light is San Francisco light. Micah and Joanne are young urban sophisticates. That, as Micah points out, is not only specific but makes them a small minority of a small minority, because gentrification has shrunk the city's blacks to 7% of the city population (New York's proportion is 28%).
Later buying groceries for dinner at his place (because Micah succeeds and Joanne does spend the day with him, and more) they happen upon a group discussing what appears to be the imminent banishment of rent control in San Francisco. Is Jenkins lecturing us, or just treading water? It doesn't matter so much, because the interactions of Micah and Joanne and the wry, cautious words they use when they talk to each other remain central, and are as specific and accurate to who they are (if not to San Francisco) as the cityscapes and the special light.
These two fine actors and this sensitive filmmaker certainly know how to make it real and to record how unpredictably things change from minute to minute. When Micah takes Joanne to the museum, instead of SFMoMA (her original suggestion), and then to the Martin Luther King Memorial at Yerba Buena Center, maybe it's turning into a pretty cool date. But when he leads her over a little bridge there and says, "This is like LA," she just rather coldly says, "Never been," and then, rubbing it in once more and pulling back, "This is a one-night stand." A ride on the merry-go-round at Yerba Buena, she seems to be saying, isn't going to change anything. This delicate homage to a moment is also a rueful acknowledgment of how hard it is to change the way things are.
And it has to be a bit of a lecture, because Micah is "born and raised," while Joanne is a "transplant," and he wants to remind her how the Fillmore and the Lower Haight were wiped out in the Sixties in "Urban Redevelopment:" goodbye black people, goodbye white artists. Micah lives in an immaculate little apartment in the Tenderloin. Micah, as the voice of Barry Jenkins, wants to reclaim San Francisco for everyday people.
Actually, Micah and Joanne seem like a perfect couple. Maybe that's why they can't be together, except just for this one day? You want to just shout out to them, "Can't you just be friends?" They fit so well together. Is this 'Medicine for Melancholy' or just 'melancholy'? Maybe it's medicine 'and' melancholy. That must be it. A fine little lyric of people and a place. And wholly without cliché except maybe for the tagline: "A night they barely remember becomes a day they'll never forget. "
Seen at the San Francisco International Film Festival 2008. This had its debut at SXSW, the South by Southwest Interactive event in Austin, Texas. 'Medicine for Melancholy' tied for the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature in San Francisco with Rodrigo Pla's 'La Zona.'
I wasn't sure what to expect when I sat down to view this film. I knew
it had been filmed here in San Francisco and had won some praise. And,
I knew it was low-budget/indie.
However, nothing prepared me for the beauty and quiet power of this film. Aside from the painfully beautiful and realistic performances of the two actors and the story of a stretched out one night stand is something that more than a few of us can relate to/with --- what really makes this film stand out for me is the artistic use of editing and cinematography.
The director has created a sharp and tightly made film. Not in color and not in black and white -- the film really sparkles by use of some form of muted visual effect that works on multiple levels considering the story, emotions, actions and lives of the two characters. The editing is perfect -- creating a pace which is both natural and urgent all at once.
I found this film to be close to perfect and elegant.
I suspect we will see a number of indie filmmakers attempt to copy the style of this film.
How refreshing to see a truly original film which never falls back on cliché or indie film tricks.
I also found the use of San Francisco to be quite clever. The city acts as not only a sort of symbol for various aspects of the characters and their relationship but almost as a third character hovering in every single scene.
This is movie not to be missed!
You couldn't make a movie that looks more like my day to day life in San Francisco than this. Telling the story of two black twenty-somethings who meet and have a one night stand, they start off the morning after in Bernal Heights, walk over to Noe Valley for breakfast, hop a cab to the Marina to drop her off, then he heads back to his studio on Geary at Hyde, two blocks from where I once rented a nearly identical apartment, down to the rotating walk-in closet door that once sported a Murphy bed. The couple meet again and head to the Museum of the African Diaspora on Mission and then over to Yerba Buena Gardens to ride the merry-go-round, both a block away from where I work. Later that night they buy stuff for dinner at Rainbow Grocery then head down to the Knockout to dance while my pal DJ Paul Paul spins 45s although his oldies singles are overdubbed on the film's soundtrack with obscure but cool indie rock. But aside from the pleasure of seeing all my usual haunts captured on on film, or digital video rather, Medicine For Melancholy is a smart movie that captures not only the vibe of life in downtown San Francisco, but also the subtleties of the changing ethnic and economic demographics of the second most expensive city in the country. The guyplayed by Wyatt Cenac, an occasional correspondent on John Stewart's Daily Showhas a deadpan quarrelsomeness that is occasionally hilarious, because not only is he concerned about the ongoing disenfranchisement of the black community in the city, he's also bugged about the pending disenfranchisement of himself from the girl's pants once her live-in boyfriend returns to town. Her boyfriend, by the way, is white, which Cenac's character tries to elevate to a political issue because of his looming romantic frustration, but she's not having it, which leads to one of the film's best exchanges as they argue about the role race plays in forming their sense of self-identity. Lots of clever relationship stuff, like surreptitiously scoping out each other's MySpace profiles and sharp naturalistic dialogue as they continually negotiate and renegotiate the emotional boundaries and ending point of their one day affair. And maybe the scene with the housing activists meeting was a digression, but you know what, if you live here that stuff is very important and on everybody's mind, and it fits nicely given the context of the film whether you like it or not. Highly recommended.
The premise of a man and woman rushing through all the phases of falling in love in one twenty-four hour period with the backdrop of a great city is a popular one. Nonetheless, it is a formula I never tire of, especially given the three main characters of "Medicine for Melancholy": Micah, Jo and the city of San Francisco. An awkward introduction in the light of day after a drunken one-night stand leads to an inauspicious "date" spent biking and cabbing around San Francisco. Unlike the relentless (but entertaining) dialogue of the Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy characters in "Before Sunrise," or the charming tension between the mis-matched and ill-fated Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in "Roman Holiday," the couple in "MFM" spend long moments of non-verbal connecting that is tinged by an overt sadness. This melancholy is confirmed by the sad dog eyes of Micah, the initially cold reaction of Jo and the lovely washed out hues of James Laxton's cinematography as he records the events of the single day shared by the couple. This movie is not driven by a narrative per se but by a series of moments that show a real emotional ballast many cinematic long-term relationships could not convey. Yet, the inevitability of the day's end and thus of the relationship's (mirrored by the fate of the city itself as it succumbs to a gentrified, character-less version of its fabled self), create a longing I felt hours after the movie ended. The soundtrack certainly contributed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a very nice film that I enjoyed very much. Back in the mid-1980s, on a Labor Day weekend, my girlfriend and I were trying to pick a film to see. As we perused the sparse offerings, we came across an ad that featured African Americans. I shouted, "Lets go see this. It has black people in it". At the time, there were so few films being done by and about blacks, we quickly rushed out to see it. We were met by a line snaking around the block. That film turned about to be Spike Lee's first film, "She's Gotta Have It". The rest is history. If this film is any indication, the future of black film-making is in good hands. The debut feature by Barry Jenkins (also, coincidentally, shot in black and white with sexual overtones) traces the post one night stand of two San Francisco twenty-somethings as they grapple with the awkwardness of what has just taken place as well as the obvious attraction they have for one another. The third character in the film is the city of San Francisco. If you have never been to SF, it is a wonderful, eclectic metropolis. It is the only Cali city with a big east coast city feel. All three of the characters are attractive to watch and play their roles well. Inertia means that a body @ rest or in motion tends to stay in its current state unless acted upon by a great enough force. Since Jo, the female character, is already in a relationship, you wonder if the magnetism between she and Wyatt will generate enough "force" to displace her current lover. Find and view the film to find out. I viewed the film in Hollywood, CA. and had the privilege of sitting in on a Q & A with the film's director and actors so I am privy to a lot of additional info about the film that is not on the screen. Suffice to say, I hope that this filmmaker and these fine actors get the opportunity to display their talents much more in the future.
First, a comment to the two reviewers who found this film 'slow,' etc;
The pace of films - for MOST of the 20th century were at a much slower pace. It lets the director get to know the characters, etc.
In today's film market - in which a HUGE part of the pie is overseas sales/distribution - dialogue doesn't translate, but, ACTIONS do.
That's one of the reasons why most films of the past decade or so, have interchangeable plots, characters - the story is second to the action.
Saying that, let me talk about MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY.
I came in a few minutes after it had begun. I'd never seen, nor heard of it (my friend had left the TV on, and was actually watching something prior - FLAWLESS, with R. DeNiro.
I came in when Micah was in a cab bringing the lost wallet he'd found back to it's owner, Jo (I know that they'd had casual sex just before this, and didn't know each other).
I got caught up in the dialogue. It was slow. It as natural, as to how two people meet (awkwardly) at inopportune times.
I quickly picked up on the ambivalence Jo' was having, and Micah, just trying (at first) to get to know Jo a bit.
The film follows them throughout that day - and that night, as the two start to reveal more of themselves. A third important cast member, who's very important, is the sprawling city of San Francisco.
I love the cinematography done on this film. It's a loving portrayal of San Francisco.
The pair walk through streets, and neighbourhoods, that are far from the shiny images tourists see, or think of, when they hear the city's name.
As for the performances of both the two (verbal) actors, I enjoyed their charisma, and I hope to see more from them in the future.
MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY is not for people who are impatient, or 'don't get' plots. But, for those who enjoy spending an afternoon, and just letting a film wash over you, this one's definitely one to watch.
Micah and Jo' wake up next to one another after an one-night-stand at a
drunken party. Slipping away they awkwardly go their separate ways, but
Micah sees her later to return her wallet. They spend the remainder of
that day together, biking and walking around San Francisco and chatting
generally as they go. This is about the size of the plot and those
looking for more of a definite narrative should probably be warned that
this is very much a niche indie film that will appeal chiefly to those
that like the film almost before they have seen it. I'm not sure if I
fall into that category as an older casual viewer but then I did make a
certain amount of effort to get hold of the film so I suppose I did
have a vested interest to like it. And mostly I did like it: mostly.
The low-key indie feel of the whole film will feel pretentious to some I'm sure but for me it had a certain lo-fi charm that came from the project as a whole. Although the path of the two characters didn't really strike me as realistic or convincing, the charm with which it was delivered helped me to put this out of my mind for the most part. This allowed me to hang out with them as they bumble around the city together in a way that will be recognisable to anyone who has done the same in any major city. In this regard I really liked the film and I enjoyed the "coolness" of it and I didn't care too much that "nothing was happening" in a traditional sense.
This makes for a very slight film and it needed to have a conclusion that fits that which it sort of does, the problem is more what it includes in the final third. We suddenly have discussions over race that feel clunky compared to the majority of the scenes that had gone before; this made it a little grating and didn't fit with the rest of the film. Of course this does fit well when compared to the sudden introducing of a meeting of random people discussing gentrification in San Francisco, this doesn't fit at all and indeed this sudden introduction of social commentary just clunks onto the screen without any real context or relevance, giving the impression that the film wants to have this aspect but wasn't able or willing to make it part of the whole film, but rather just one scene.
The charm of it is key though and the casting was very important in making this work. Finding Wyatt Cenac in the lead was a surprise and perhaps a bit of a worry since I generally find him to be the least able of those on the Daily Show; I like him but his performances on that show are never as good as John Olivier, Larry Wilmore or some of the stronger ones. Here though he is awkwardly charming in a weird geeky way. He does walk a fine line because at times he could have been irritating but he keeps it on the right side of the line. He is helped a lot by his chemistry with Heggins. She is wonderfully awkward and cute; OK she never got her character's motivations through to me but I still really took to her and to both of them together.
Medicine for Melancholy is a very slight film though and it is not something to come to with high expectations. Rather the indie design and delivery is something that charms those that left it, thanks to the work by maker Jenkins and also the chemistry of the lead two. The attempts to have some form of commentary or meaning in it really clunk towards the end but ultimately, while not great, it is a lo-fi indie pleasure.
Just saw the premiere at SXSW. An absolutely beautiful movie. I love the look of the film. The way it's shot changes over time as the story unfolds subtly reinforcing events on screen. The actors work so very wonderfully together. The protagonists are able to connect via a shared circumstance not easily communicated to others. The feelings and thoughts of both over the 24 hours of this film's settings really came through and affected me greatly. Kudos to the whole team. They were able to make a professional-looking film with a skeleton crew and a nearly nonexistent budget which any auteur would be proud of. I can't wait to be able to see this movie again, next time in SF.
I just watched this film on NetFlix. It was recommended by some critics online who saw the film awhile back and saying that it was a beautiful film. Riding high of the Oscar win, this film by Barry Jenkins was supposedly an inspiration which lead to the creation of Moonlight. I am always looking for undiscovered gems which I may not have seen before, to enjoy on days I have off of work. I am sorry to say, but maybe this film is just "too hip" for me. I have tried, and failed to what this film 3 times. Each time falling asleep while attempting to stay awake. The pale color pallet, the slow pace, the awkward dialog, make for a mix of great boredom. I am glad others found joy in this film, but I have found much better films online of the same nature.
Twenty-four hours in the tentative relationship of two young San
Franciscans also dealing with the conundrum of being a minority in a
rapidly gentrifying city.
Barry Jenkins has described the film's two main characters as "playing out a debate back and forth about identity politics". Each of the two main characters embodies an ideology. Jenkins saw the character of Micah as a man who was always building barriers, whereas Jo thinks that race is a limiter. Accusing Jo of assimilation, Micah strives to reclaim his essential "blackness" as Jo contrastingly claims Micah has a "hang up" about his race and strives to overcome her own.
Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 out of 4 stars, calling the actors "effortlessly engaging" and the direction "assured"; he also noted the film was "beautifully photographed". Ebert is right on all counts. The acting is superb, very natural, and really shows off Wyatt Cenac as more than a comedian. The direction is strong, and the cinematography is gorgeous, some of the best you will find anywhere, whether in a big budget film or indie.
The discussion of race is great. As a white man, maybe I can't see the issue from the point of view of Micah, Jo or Barry Jenkins. But I love that there's this divide of ideas. Micah is indignant, as he should be, about being a minority. But Jo prefers to look forward. Indeed, how does one define themselves? I don't think of myself as "white", and sometimes not even as a "man", but do these things define me whether or not I choose to accept them?
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