Medicine for Melancholy product details page

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Medicine for Melancholy

Tracey N. HegginsWyatt Cenac

Director: Barry Jenkins

rated: NR

released: October 27, 2009

Rating: Not rated: write a review
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Barry Jenkins' Medicine for Melancholy is a movie that tries -- with limited success -- to straddle two points-of-view. On the one hand, it's a finely acted mostly two-person drama, low-key and very naturalistic, about Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and Jo (Tracey Heggins), who meet in what is essentially a one-night stand that gets extended -- and in the course of their interaction, they discover that each is not comfortable with the way the other deals with being African-American in San Francisco, the major city with the smallest African-American population of any in the United States. That part of the movie, which is finely played and carefully delineated across the dialogue and action, works beautifully, and makes Medicine for Melancholy well worth seeing -- the acting is nothing less than exquisite in its ease and naturalness, and one often forgets that it is actors that we are watching. What works less well is Jenkins' broader topical concern, about development and gentrification in San Francisco, which is, in fact, pushing the middle-class and the poor -- and, by extension, minorities -- out of the city (one of the most expensive to live in among major U.S. cities). That material feels as though it has been dropped into the script and the continuity, and while it isn't so jarring as to break up the effect of the performances, it is a distraction that might have been woven in more carefully, if not re-thought entirely, despite the fact that it does relate to some of the conflicts between the two central characters. That flaw aside, this is a beautifully made film, with especially careful use (or non-use) of color, which is muted to the point of near-monochrome through most of the picture, except at certain strategic points where it does blaze forth, with good results. And the resulting picture is very finely made, if not as carefully written and structured as it might have been, with a little less impassioned topicality. Bruce Eder, All Movie Guide

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