Sunday, July 10, 2011

Medicine for Melancholy

Part near-miss love story, part social commentary and part contemplative road trip through the streets of San Francisco, Barry Jenkins’ debut feature, “Medicine for Melancholy,” is so subtle and subdued that it nearly undercuts itself. I’d describe it, in fact, as a film that doesn’t quite work — but the way it doesn’t work is so distinctive and so interesting that it marks Jenkins as an exciting new face on the American indie scene.

“Medicine for Melancholy” has caused a mini-sensation on the festival scene since premiering last March at South by Southwest (and was nominated for multiple Spirit and Gotham awards), and that partly has to do with the film’s hushed tone and patient, intimate technique. In the mysterious opening scene, a man and woman wake up together without saying a word. They’re evidently awkward in each other’s company, but we have no idea what their relationship is or what has happened between them. For the first minute or so, you think Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton shot the film in black-and-white, until you notice the faintest washes of rusty red, dusty blue and pale pink — more like the memory of colors than colors themselves. The film’s reception also reflects the remarkable performances of Wyatt Cenac and Tracey Heggins as Micah and Jo, two strangers who begin to reveal themselves to each other, uncertainly and guardedly, on the day after their drunken one-night stand at somebody’s party. (If you watch the trailer, you may notice that Jo first introduces herself as “Rachel.” It’s that kind of hookup, at least at first.)

Read the complete review here.

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