Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 07, 2021 7:53 am 
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Black lives coincide

Written and directed by Adam Kritzer and set in Red Hook, a Brooklyn neighborhood on the verge of gentrification, and starring Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris, William Nadylam, and Kalae Nouveau, Good Funk follows three generations of Afro-Caribbean immigrants whose lives intersect through acts of kindness both big and small. This is what the publicity tells us. "Lives intersecting through acts of kindness" isn't really an idea for a movie. It's more a good intention. But the lives of the people in Good Funk do intersect, and a couple of people do help someone in distress. But the strongest scenes may be those of a ten-year-old girls's demanding, self-centered behavior.

The action seems to be struggling to get a plot for thirty minutes. Gentrification is a given, and may be one reason a mother and daughter are evicted from their apartment (so the landlord can get much more rent?) A well-off friend who invites the mother into his chauffeured car for a ride later takes mother and daughter in, or takes the ten-year-old in, anyway. And now we have a plot: this is a story about a bratty child. Kolo (Leonay Shepherd), the kid, stages a tantrum to make Terence (the patient, mysterious William Nadylam, who played Chérif, the mayor, in Claire Denis' White Material) buy her a pair of tight-fitting pants that cost $320. Back at his apartment later, she insists she be given not a ham sandwich for lunch but pancakes, with chocolate chips and chocolate swirls. Bargaining ensues.

Kalae (Kalae Nouveau), who lives with Terence, does a gig as a singer-for-hire in a recording studio. Later she talks to an older man (her father?) about her late mother's, she assumes, similar failed career. He insists she was a great success, but lost everything because she was exploited.

Akifah Traveille (Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris) is the mother of Kolo (Leonay Shepherd). During all this she is evicted, then goes to a party where a man comes on strong to her. She responds favorably but then to put him off says "I don't live here anymore," and when he asks "Can I call you?" says "I don't have a phone." Next thing you know she is let go from her job at MacDonald's. Her sympathetic coworker Kevin (indie vet Larry Fessenden) wants to help her. He seems almost hysterical in his appeal to her, on a noisy subway stairway, to let him give her a place to stay. Kevin is a lonely white man who used to live with his mother. She stays with him.

Now we are to the last twenty minutes of this very short feature film and it rushes to fill in more plot lines. Terence bangs on the boarded-up front of what he tells a cop is the family business. He says he is trying to get the attention of his mother, who is inside. The cop seems about to arrest Terence - for being black - but he apparently is able to walk away. Akifah comes to Terence's place and apologizes to Kolo for seeming to abandon her. She is seen in an outdoor walking shot with Kolo, taking her to stay with her at Kevin's. "You will like him. He's a good man." (Yes but Larry Fassenden has such awful hair!)

Were Terence and Kalae going to adopt Kolo, take her in long-term? What's going to happen to Akifah, evicted and now jobless and apparently depressed and guilt-ridden? Nonetheless Akifah tells Kolo things are looking up. They'll stay with Kevin till she "figures things out." The pouty, spoiled Kolo has now disappeared and she is cooperative.

Terence and Kalae talk. His father's apartment (doubtless high value with gentrification) has a buyer, and he may use the money to restart the car hire business, run itself, or "hire someone to run it." Kalae suggests having a baby and he agrees, as they puff a cigarette together, but he says "there's no hurry."

The film is said to be the product of a new film training and visual literacy program that recruits young Brooklynites to "learn the filmmaking craft, share their stories and collaborate for pay on a feature film production". The result is said to have been "a portrait of love enduring and a testament to discovering family in unexpected places." Again, that is brochure material, not plot material. We never know exactly Terence's motives, but he is a suave and well off black man (with a slight accent) who helps out the desperate Akifah and her daughter Kolo for a bit, till Kevin, a middle-aged, lonely white MacDonald's employee, takes over.

Since most of the HBO series "High Maintenance" episodes take place in Brooklyn, I wondered as I watched if this material could have been condensed into one of those episodes. I concluded that it could, but would need a lighthearted appearance from Ben Sinclair's "the guy," and some hooks to make the semi-related storylines more interesting, amusing, and timely. Doubtless those could be found. But unless the dilemma of Akifah had been resolved more decisively earlier on, I would not have ended the story with Terence and Kalae intensely making out (was that cigarette spiked?) as the final shot. It seems unfair to Akifah. Having three generations was a bit much. The older people were not clearly defined.

Kolo's tantrum period might be interpreted as acting out her anxiety about her mother's precarious situation, but that won't really wash. She seems too practiced and calculating in her manipulativeness for that explanation to work. And those manipulations are the most memorable moments in the film. They are the primary "High Maintenance" material: a ten-year-old black girl is in a desperate situation, and she reacts by behaving like a princess.

The score is hardly noticeable here, but the cinematography of Gideon de Villiers is often striking in the bright, primary color look, especially of its middle distance external shots where Brooklyn is stripped clean and ready for new developments. The weakest points are probably the writing and the direction. But Kritzer deserves credit for the experiment of living in Red Hook and developing an apprenticeship film program to develop crew from the community, instead of falling back on "a bunch of NYU grads."

There is a (Caribbean?) festival sequence where everybody dances in bright clothes. At one point Terence hears his father talking to him giving advice in French. This is not quite the same as integrating Caribbean and African ethnicity into the lives of these people.

Instead of any reviews, there is only a [url=""]comment[/url] on the trailer by Alex Billington. People who write up trailers do no one much good. Movies are best talked about by people who have actually seen them.

Good Funk, 73 Minutes, debuted at Birmingham (Alabama; Sidewalk festival) , showing also at Harlem, Adirondack, and Copenhagen (CPH: PIX) in 2016, and at Winston Salem (RiverRun) in 2017. 1091 Pictures is making the film available to purchase or rent from June 8, 2021.

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