Tuesday, March 10, 2009

here's the thing about writing a bad review

it's really easy if you're a hater. and i like to hate. especially when a film/album/person gets a lot of attention in a relatively short amount of time -- slumdog, kanye, hot cheetos. it's not really that i enjoy hating, it's just that once everybody starts telling me how amazing something is, my inner critic starts to rebel and i feel like i need to hate, if only to salvage some part of my individual humanity.

so after all this hoopla over medicine for melancholy, i had to be honest with myself. was i hating because i was truly concerned about the films content? or was my haterade coming from a deeper, more selfish space?

probably both.

i'd first heard about the film at the end of january when it was premiering in brooklyn. by mid-february i'd seen it getting favorable reviews in everything from the fader to post bougie to the san francisco chronicle (front page, even). my inner hater started creeping. slowly at first -- i didn't wanna read the reviews -- but by the time my transplanted white friends were talking about it, hatestronomous was in full blown survival mode.

i had to remind myself: calm down, jay. you have to like this film. it's about san francisco and alternablacks and bikes and fucked up romantic relationships and gentrification. and dammit, it's an indy film, too. not some fucked up commercial shit produced by sean penn and starring larenz tate and rosario dawson (although on second thought that might not be too bad).

in the span of little more than a month, medicine for melancholy went from a little-known niche film about black people and gentrification to one of this year's "it" films, something that the masses -- from brooklyn to boston and beyond -- could identify with on a personal level. and therein lay my problem: i didn't want to identify with something that everyone else could identify with on a personal level. for me, the experience of being born and raised and black in san francisco is uniquely personal. for me, seeing the film was like having of some inner part of myself put on display for everyone else to dissect, and internalize on their own accord. and the thing is about me is, despite putting all my dirty laundry in the blogesphere for everyone to see, i'm an intensely private person when it comes to the things i hold most dear. and i guess this -- whatever this is -- is one of those things.

i guess in that regard, i can relate to desi folks who have a complex appreciation for slumdog millionaire. sure, it's a great story, but there's something endlessly vapid about packaging someone else's pain and identity and marketing it as 'socially conscious' entertainment. it's voyeuristic, it's shameful, it's triggering, and yes -- it's annoying as fuck.

but medicine for melancholy is no slumdog millionaire. in its most basic description, it's an independent film made by a struggling filmmaker living out of a friends parents attic. it explores important troupes, such of race, class and sex, and does so in some rather cliched ways. the narrative never really settles smoothly. in fact, there's an awkwardness to the entire film that works well under the guise of uncomfortable one-night stands, but not so well when it comes to discussing the disappearance of black people from san francisco. the pace of the film is slow and, at times, boring. so is the film sweet? yes. does it provoke important questions? of course. is it groundbreaking? hardly.

that the truth is, in all my anticipation, i was setting myself up to be disappointed.

here's another thing about writing a bad review: opinions --especially mine -- are always bound to change, and are always the subjective fodder of the viewer, who inevitably brings their own biases and baggage to whatever it is they're ripping to shreds.

if melancholy were to be released on video, sure, i'd buy it. i'd watch it a few more times, mull over plotlines and maybe recommend it to a few more friends. but i can't say that i'll ever like it, because the subject matter is too painful to begin with, and too painfully under-explored in the film for me to truly appreciate.


kg said...

yea girl.

i was hyped about this film SO much, for the same reasons you wrote about.

i liked it as far as art goes, but i think some of the major issues the film grazed over, were as you said, underdeveloped. it could of been something really powerful, but it fell short.

i appreciate it for what it was, but appreciate your criticism, i too wish that it answered more of the "why" about gentrification and black culture in sf. sigh.

Anonymous said...

ok, i know people are super sensitive when it comes to films on subject they're really close to. but a few things:

1. this guy is a first-time filmmaker who never admitted to being from san francisco. what more can you expect? and why should any film be responsible for telling a wide-ranging history?

2. i totally get where you're coming from in your disppaointment. i had similar misgivings after seeing it and hearing all the hype. then i thought, as people of color, we're never given the freedom to be represented in different ways. our own communities have this unrealistic expectation that every representation will be "genuine" and include all the nuances that the white mainstream often leaves out. but by doing that, aren't we just feeding into the same small-minded mentality that we're often critiquing?

like i said, i appreciate your review, and the fact that you personalized it. but i also think it's unrealistic to expect any film to do everything we want.