Let's cut to the chase: Black People, My People - if you haven't yet, go see this flick. And all the resta y'all? Youse guys go see it, too. Uh, go now.
Oh, you're still here? 'kay, then; you get to read the rest of my Brilliant Thesis on Why You, Too, Should See The Wood.
THE STORY (WARNING: **spoilers contained below**)
[I hope my sis, The Diva, doesn't mind me biting off...uh, liberally borrowing...okay okay, downright stealing, her summary of the story. I couldn't have said it better myself. And since I know where she keeps her code, I didn't have to...]:
The Diva's (stolen from the official site) summary of The Wood:
"Mike (Omar Epps) and Slim (Richard T. Jones) never thought they'd see the
day their man Roland (Taye Diggs) would strut down the aisle to get
married. Neither, apparently, did Roland, who ducks out just hours before
the ceremony and turns up at the house of his high school sweetheart,
Tanya (Tamala Jones). Though he adores his fiance (Lisaraye), Roland sees
the impending nuptials as a separation from those who have always been
closest to him, his neighborhood partners from Inglewood, which they
fondly refer to as 'the Wood'."
Thanks, Diva, for the helping hand! [5 finger discount...what can I say?]
"After Mike and Slim track down their cold-footed friend Roland, they begin reliving their teenage days growing up in the 1980s - an era of chasing girls, jheri curls, K-Swiss tennis shoes and hip-hop beats. As these three friends revisit some of their old stomping grounds, they know that two big words uttered later in the day will change their friendships forever."
"The Wood is based on writer/director Rick Famuyiwa's vivid memories of
growing up in the middle-class African-American neighborhood of Inglewood,
California with his boyhood pals. Famuyiwa originated the story idea
several years ago when a friend of his announced he was getting married
and he and Famuyiwa found themselves reminiscing for hours about the good
"Just wouldn't seem right wthout any Drama."
Who among us - us growin'-up-in-the-70s (or 80s) Hoodie Rats, anyway - can't personally testify to that sentiment from Mike, regarding our (extended) families ("the 'hood", in the colloquial tongue)? Who hasn't rolled - uh, ran...uh, hung out...shoot, buy a Blactionary, dig? - with their pat'nas (male or female) that were the whole world to you? And who, when forcibly faced with Adulthood, didn't want to run and hide from it with your best friends at your side?
These are some of the issues that Mike, Roland, and Slim face together in The Wood, a tale, told in flashbacks, of three boys who become men in the (not-always-as-mean as Hollywood would have you believe) streets of Inglewood, California. To be sure, the threesome face Typical Urban Situations, such as a beatdown from a gangbanger - which evolves into a mostly believable peace of sorts between 'banger and target; or a DWB stop (got that Blactionary yet?) - that doesn't lead to the expected outcome of vengeful havoc being wreaked. But more often than not, these three grow up as many of Us did: normally, with the affects of Our culture(s) and the outside culture(s) having shaped, but not completely defined, Us; with many of the same hopes and dreams as our White counterparts, and quite a few all our own. I find resonance with the notion that, yes, We have Slice Of Life stories, too, that can - and should - be told. And much more often than every blue moon.
Because this seemed like a reflection of me - and those like me - I could forgive things that I'd quickly squash in another film, regardless of the hue of its principles. Things like the dead spots between flashback and current-day scenes that were meant to be shown as raison d'etre of the current event; the overuse of the record player to bring on the flashbacks; close but yet not excessive attention to some details of the past (jheri curls, hi-top fades, "African" necklaces...dag, I used to wear one until just recently, and have already forgotten what they're called!), but not enough to others (clothes styles in some scenes). And I had a very hard time getting past one of the casting choices: though no one should expect an exact match, Duane Finley (who played young Slim) looked much more like Taye Diggs (adult Roland) than like Richard T. Jones (adult Slim) to me.
Still, the pros far outweighed the cons. Though we didn't get to know as much about the characters as I would've liked, they seemed real, in a way that not very many writers/directors of any hue, have presented their characters. The storytelling, I believe, played an influential factor in that aspect of things; instead of having a Big! Event! that they wanted to move us rapidly along to (complete with Slammin! Soundtrack! blaring Meaningfully in the background), Famuyiwa and Boyd seemed content to share a Story with Us, one that they probably felt We could identify with; that we could Feel. Even the technique having a character talk directly to the audience (that went flat when used in Hav Plenty) worked well here; done with humor (as Mike begins talking to the camera, a pacing Slim says, "Who you talkin' to?"), the actors pull it off naturally, not forced, for the most part, and it had me crackin' up. Too bad the audience was dry; they brought down what should've been a cozy, familial experience. But I learned long ago to not let a blah audience steal my enjoyment of a flick (or, conversely, an audience filled with sheep, convince me to bleat along with them). I could've grooved on The Wood all by myself, if I had to. Good thing I didn't; those who Got It, grooved right along with me.
THE "BLACK FACTOR"   [ObDisclaimer: We Are Not A Monolith]
The BF was very strong in this movie, in many dimensions. Though there must be room for the hoochies, hoes, pimps and playahs of the world, it was extremely gratifying to see a Black movie devoid of them, while at the same time, still full of the flava (there's that word again!) of contemporary urban society. The stereotypes had a low profile here; the "other woman" wasn't a skeezer, the 'bangers had a sense of honor and humor (if De'aundre Bonds, who played "Junior" in Get On The Bus, doesn't get plenty of acting roles after these two movies, There Is No Justice!), and though the guys were after the boo'tay, they weren't quite the studs movies would lead us to believe. And speaking of bootie...ladies, lemme tell ya; the fellas were muy pleasing to the eye...from all angles!
On the real, Hollywood - no, let me put the blame squarely where it belongs: We, the Black audience, by Our inaction, Our refusal to go watch those movies that We claim we want to see, but are too damn cheap to spend $7.50 on (but don't let Speilberg or Lucas film Raiders Of The Lost Jedi Knights The Rilly Truly First Episode, or Martin Lawrence or Chris Tucker come out with Show My Shuckin' An Jivin' Black Bootie Call Part 12, or...ooh, I betta leave that 'lone). Hmmm...what was I saying? Oh yeah. On the real, the images We see of ourselves in mainstream cinema, would have Us believing that Our lives are uni-dimensional, beginning and ending either with boyz in the hood or booty call. We are only rarely seen - and more to the point, only rarely see Ourselves - as part Love Jones, part Soul Food - and now, part The Wood, too.
More's the pity.
BAMMER'S BOTTOM LINE
Allow me to repeat myself: In the middle of 1999's Big! Event! blockbuster summer movie season (which really didn't seem all that Big, did it? But that's another rant for another day...), even the lack of a Big Event in this movie didn't get in the way of my enjoying this flick for what it was: a slice of non-monolithic, Booty Call-less, Black life, told without apology from someone who obviously looked back, fondly, at his life and times in the Wood. And if you don't know that that story can be told in Anywhere Blacktown, USA, I think ya betta ask somebody...
What, you're still here? Go get a ticket to this. If you're too late for the theater, go get in line at the video store. Yes, right now.
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