October 29, 2009
Medicine for MelancholyReviewer: Craig Phillips
Rating (out of 5): ***½ [Note: This review originally appeared on GreenCine Daily when film premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival. The widescreen DVD is out from MPI Home Video.] I was wary of Barry Jenkins's film even before I even saw it. That's not his fault: I've simply gotten to the point, sadly, where I dread low-budget/indie films shot in my hometown, San Francisco, having sat through too many recently that made me want to claw my eyes out - and then having to nod and smile at the makers afterwards when the lights come on. And in the press notes for this film, "The City of San Francisco" is listed as one of three main characters, which made me worry even further. What's more, the very title is a bit tacked on - Jenkins confessed in an interview that he saw a character in Chloe in the Afternoon reading Ray Bradbury's book and thought it made a fitting title. Nothing inherently wrong with that; I was only disappointed there wasn't more to the reference in the film. Despite my fears, Medicine for Melancholy, flawed though it may be, is a low-key revelation. In an interview the director revealed he was influenced by Claire Denis's Friday Night and appropriately also credits Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise/Before Sunset and, like those films, Medicine is set around a brief encounter, over the course of a day and night and into day again, between two strangers who meet, spend time with each other, slowly realize that this is only a fleeting relationship, and move on. Here it is Micah (the quite likable and funny, if a bit low-energy Wyatt Cenac, who has been involved in TV's King of the Hill), an "urban black male" with hipster-ish tendencies, who worries about the struggles of minorities in a gentrifying San Francisco. His counterpart is the more refined Jo (Tracey Heggins), who doesn't say much at all at first, perhaps realizing this was all a big mistake given that she has a boyfriend, but who warms up to Micah over time. Their connection is real and their disconnect just as real and bittersweet.
Posted by cphillips at October 29, 2009 10:46 AM