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From the start of “Really Love”, Stevie, the romantic woman in the film, delivers the film’s thesis. It’s the cutie encounter from the movie, and as she stands in front of a portrait in an art gallery, she thinks of her future sweetheart that he’s showing “black people as extraordinary and normal at the same time.” So intense. âStevie talks about the painting, but it’s also the screenwriter who talks about the movie itself.
Sadly, the film is heavy on the normal and light on the extraordinary, making it a disappointing romantic drama. Written, directed and produced by black women – Felicia Pride, Angel Kristi Williams and Mel Jones respectively – “Really Love” is a black love story about Stevie Richmond (Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing), an ambitious law student, and Isaiah Maxwell (Kofi Siriboe), a young and talented painter. The film is not a great love story. It’s a story of banality, of how life can hinder love.
To understand the underwhelming quality of âReally Love,â you have to understand when film noir and black culture are right now. Black audiences and creatives are clamoring for more mundane stories of everyday black life and black joy.
The surge is more than understandable given the film industry’s frequent rise in stories that portray dark trauma. The perpetual production and praise of these films, and not others with a lighter subject matter, builds an image of black life characterized only by struggle and conflict.
From inside the industry there is another call for black filmmakers to make mediocre films and have even more opportunities to make films after that. Black filmmakers want the same second, third and fourth chances as white filmmakers.
Right now, however, this call for black filmmakers to be free to do mediocre work that doesn’t end their careers is mistaken for the desire for the genre of sober films that show the everyday lives of black people. âReally Loveâ sits at the heart of these two distinct impulses in the culture right now. The film is simply mediocre.
Visually, the film is aesthetic but lacks narrative substance. Cinematographer Shawn Peters clearly knows how to light up the various shades and smooth textures of brown skin to make it glow and stand out on camera.
In the obligatory romantic drama montage of couple Stevie and Isaiah traveling the city to get to know each other, a vintage film grain filter and a jazz score work together to capture the beauty and sensuality of their budding connection. Jazz particularly gives Spike Lee to “She’s Gotta Have It” (1986) in an attempt to tie the film to a more independent and artistic black cinematic tradition.
Beyond the pretty picture and on a narrative level though, the chemistry between Stevie and Isaiah is barely there, and the performances leave a lot to be desired. As I watched I kept asking myself, “Where’s the passion, where’s the romance, where’s the drama?” ”
As fictional writer Brandon Taylor wrote in his weekly newsletter, âSweaters Time,â âThings have never looked better. Or sounded so good. But at the same time, it’s never been easier to borrow the signifiers and attributes of good art and commodify them to disguise deeply mediocre shit.
Despite having laid the groundwork for a conflict, the stakes in Stevie and Isaiah’s relationship are never high enough for audiences to truly engage in their story. She’s a lawyer, and he’s an artist. It comes from the money; he is not. He wants his work to exist simply without making a political statement; she wants to use her law degree for political ends instead of going into business. One would think that these contrasts between their characters would be fertile ground for conflict, but they never constitute formidable obstacles.
Only about an hour into the movie’s start, do we get any real signs of conflict when the two have their first and only big fight. Without saying too much, the fight doesn’t even make narrative sense. The punches they throw at themselves don’t sting as they should because the characters aren’t fully developed.
Stevie doesn’t even bring up the fact that Isaiah didn’t thank her during her speech at her first solo art show – even though she hosted, nurtured, and gave him the space he had. need to be “in the zone”, often to its detriment. It can’t be me! Again, a missed opportunity for the writers to build on the narrative fieldwork they have presented.
The filmmakers of “Really Love” share the same principle as their protagonist artist. As Isaiah says in the movie, he just wants to “express (his) ideas without having to explain them to anyone, without making any sort of statement, just showing black people as normal and beautiful and all the rest.”
As a medium, however, cinema cannot simply show black people as normal and beautiful. Movies need a story. And all stories need conflict to work. If the creators of the film just wanted to show that black people were normal and beautiful, they could have painted a portrait.
I can see what the filmmakers were looking for – an understated, honest and artistic film that subtly leaves its mark on you. âReally Loveâ has some good bones, but what we got was a poor movie. I just hope these black filmmakers have a better chance to come up with one that portrays ordinary black people extraordinarily.
Well, at least I got to watch Kofi Siriboe’s beautiful personality for an hour and a half.
Posted on September 20, 2021 at 10:11 p.m.
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