The 2008 Los Angeles Film Festival Review - Medicine for Melancholy

Medicine for Melancholy, directed by Barry Jenkins

Two people meet at a party, have a one night stand and part the next morning. Well, sort of. In Medicine for Melancholy, our hero Micah (Wyatt Cenac) does not want to just forget. He wants to know this girl. Yet after buying her breakfast and a shared cab ride home – that was completely out of his way- she purposefully walks away back to her own life, without looking back. The Fates, however, reward Micah’s tenacity with the discovery of her dropped wallet on the cab floor.

Jo’ (Tracey Heggins) - who at first lied and said her name was Angela - lives in a very nice condo on a very nice street where she does not pay rent. She is aloof and guarded and scarcely friendly to Micah, yet she is won over by his humor and his persistence, and the way she smiles tells us the night they shared may have been something special.

A man of many talents

They spend they spend the day together, in gentle conversation, with Jo slowly surrendering tidbits of her life and likes. It is her idea to go to a museum; it is his idea to go to the MOAD (Museum of African Design?). They discuss race and class and lament the changing landscape of San Francisco, while discovering more and more of their share likes and differences. They eat and argue and make love, finding that they are more alike than not. And the next morning, she slips away, back to her life in the condo she doesn’t pay rent in.

Open Your Eyes

This was a wonderful story: simple, clean, earnest. The chemistry between the leads was truly lovely to watch because it was about an attraction that was rooted in curiosity and playfulness rather than super-charged sexual attraction. Everything about this film is refreshingly understated. The only exception I took issue with was the “gentrification scene”. While I found the issues being raised a and volleyed in this “housing group roundtable”, I feel like Jenkins could have better woven this scene into the fabric of the piece, rather than having come out of no where. But maybe that’s the point, to snatch the audience out of this dream and present the problem starkly with fresh eyes and ears.

Tracey Heggins & Wyatt Cenac in "Medicine for Melancholy"

Lastly, this film is quite frankly the most beautiful film I have seen all week. The film was shot in HD Digital at about 85 percent de-saturation. So there were only muted colors throughout. It was an interesting choice considering that the principles were African American; nevertheless it was a high successful concept. The use of light and shadow easily rivals its film counterparts in it richness and warmth. The use of depth of field and perspective was simply genius. The stillness of this film was also impressive, making very judicious use of camera movement versus a static frame. Bravo to Cinematographer James Laxton and director Jenkins for their restrained and exquisite subtlety. 

Medicine for Melancholy is part of e Summer Preview series at the 2008 Los Angeles Film Festival going on now thru June 29th in the Westwood Village.

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