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Friday, February 28, 2014

If You Like the 'Before' Films, You Might Also Like 'Medicine for Melancholy'

I remember when I first watched Before Sunrise, years after it became the go-to whimsical romance film of the 90s, and I remember thinking, well, that was a pleasant surprise. To see two strangers fall for each other in a way that was less sexual and more intellectual was refreshing and far more mature than what we're used to seeing on the big screen these days. The follow-up film, Before Sunset, continued that adult conversation about life, love and happenstance, even as the two main characters--Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy)--progressed in their lives and travels. But as Before Midnight brings us to a rather abrupt yet delicate core in Jesse and Celine's relationship, it made me think back to what made this couple so interesting to watch in the two previous films. Which in turn reminded me of the long forgotten gem, Medicine for Melancholy of 2008.

If you're unfamiliar with Medicine for Melancholy, I implore you to watch it immediately, especially if you're a fan of this sort of flurried approach to dialogue that is so prevalent in the Before films (especially the first two). Medicine, written and directed by Barry Jenkins, follows a chance meeting between two individuals--Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and Jo' (Tracey Heggins)--over the span of 24 hours in the Bay Area of California. Like the Before films, the two share an existential discussion that is challenged by race and class relations in respect to their neighborhood becoming gentrified in a rapidly evolving era. While much of the conversation flirts with Micah and Jo's potential for one another--and the undeniable chemistry they share--it is marked by their underlying feelings of what it means to be minorities in their own neighborhood, and sometimes feeling like a rebel among their own group of friends. While it might not be the best time for them, Jo' and Micah find each other as they still struggle to find themselves amid social confusion.

Like Celine and Jesse, Jo' and Micah are both opinionated and accessible, with a million thoughts between them that aren't often agreed upon but are always acknowledged and challenged. It's ping pong dialogue that at its best stimulates the audience and makes you care not only about these characters but of their ideals and surroundings. We only see their relationship throughout the course of a day, but there is ample opportunity for a follow-up feature, even if it's just to see how gentrification has impacted their older selves and views on life now. This could especially be timely in light of how social media has redefined conversations of race and relationship issues in and out of minority communities. There are plenty of avenues a Medicine for Melancholy sequel can take, but I feel it has all but been overshadowed by the far more popular Before journey. Watch it and see for yourself.


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