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Monday, April 27, 2015

I Really Wanted to Like BLACKBIRD...

For what it's worth, I'm glad that movies like BLACKBIRD are out there. In general, Hollywood has a long way to go in terms of LGBTQ representation on the big screen, particularly with minority characters. But that said, I was really disappointed with director Patrik-Ian Polk's BLACKBIRD. Aside from a tender performance from lead actor Julian Walker, the film is poorly structured with heavy-handed writing.

And it's a real shame, partly due to the fact that this project was poised to be the big comeback for Mo'Nique, arguably the biggest start in the film (and the only Oscar winner). After being unfairly lambasted for not doing enough press interviews prior to her 2009 Oscar win (Precious), it was reported that she was "blackballed" in Hollywood for several years. For BLACKBIRD, the actress not only did numerous interviews, but she also wrote an open letter to the black community, encouraging more support and acceptance of LGBTQ people.

Secondly, Isaiah Washington, a great actor though most remembered in mainstream media for this moment in which he used a homophobic slur, is also on the comeback trail playing the supportive father of a gay son (Walker) in the film. With all the media hype behind the film, including the many social media conversations it's sparked, I had just hoped that it would have follow in the footsteps of 2011's Pariah (an unfair comparison, I know, but I wished it had at least been on the same level). But it definitely isn't.

In case you forgot, BLACKBIRD is a coming-of-age drama about 17-year-old Randy (Walker), a devoted, church-loving son grappling with his sexual identity while also having to care for his mother (Mo'Nique), who's distraught over the disappearance of her daughter. If it sounds like there's already a lot going on there (and needlessly), buckle up, there are even more subplots: Randy's father Lance (Washington) is a deadbeat Dad; Randy's friend Effrem (Gary LeRoi Gray) is going through his own trials as an openly gay teen; and fellow classmate Leslie (D. Woods) is faced with a major life decision.

Yet none of these plots are really explored. They're all shortchanged. Many of them just sort of collide with one another insubstantially in the latter 30 minutes of the film just when Randy's story sadly implodes. Why include these storylines if you're not going to explain them? Awkward dream sequences and blurred themes further aggravate the structure adding to the confusion. Even some of the dialogue seems misplaced and not thought out. It just became...a mess.

Despite what could have been a breakthrough performance for Walker, BLACKBIRD becomes just a well-intentioned melodrama that lacks the focus it needs to truly soar.

Rating: D+ (** out of *****)

BLACKBIRD is not playing.


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