Wednesday, May 18, 2011

That biological clock--Afr-Am version--gets a workout in Russ Parr's 35 AND TICKING

Joining the ranks of movies about women's biological clock ticking off the time remaining for natural conception comes Russ Parr's African-American version, 35 AND TICKING.  As an indie rom-com with mainstream aspirations, Parr's film is a light year or so better than the last such film TrustMovies sat through this past fall (the execrable Speed Dating). For that alone, it's worth a recommendation.

That said, I wish the movie were better. As director, Mr. Parr (pictured at left), while no award-winner, hits his marks well enough, coaxing decent performances from a cast that is pretty much on the same page so that it appears an ensemble is performing rather than a bunch of disparate actors. His movie has energy, too, and plenty of humor -- though one might want a dash more sophistica-tion now and again. Which brings us to Parr's weak point, although this is certainly not apparent initially: the writing. The movie begins with a lovely little scene between two schoolgirl friends -- one of them bemoaning the fact that she's very tall. Adjusting to oncoming adulthood and the interest of boys, the two girls dream of Michael Jackson and Prince. (Interesting choices, as these have got to be two of the least threatening black males ever to have trod the earth.)

Cut to the present, with our girls now fully grown and having a drink in a local club but still bemoaning their fate. The dialog here is good, too: fast, smart and believable. Zanobia (Nicole Ari Parker, at right, above and below) remains man-less, while Victoria (Tamala Jones, above left) has her man, all right, but he won't commit to having kids. Staunch pal Phil (Keith Robinson, below, center), conversely, is saddled with a wife who's a rotten mother and sleeps around. The fourth wheel is the comic fool Cleavon (Kevin Hartbelow, left), who is simply a mess.

From those first couple of well-imagined, positioning scenes, Parr's movie slowly degenerates into repetition, heavy-handedness and cliché. That biological clock is brought up again and again, when once would have been adequate for us to get the point, and Cleavon's trips to the sperm bank (below) grow tiresome fast, as does his inability to ask his dream girl for a date. Sure, one can be tongue-tied, but this character has us worried that he hasn't yet learned to tie his shoelaces.

Victoria's across-the-hall neighbors, clearly here for comic effect, are too ham-fisted to provide much, whereas the scene that might have been the funniest in the film -- a computer-dating-service assignation for Zanobia (involving Clifton Powell, below, left) that becomes a color-coded date from hell -- never takes off as it should -- again, because of the slack and obvious dialog.

Toward the finale, things get wrapped up in the style of decent melodrama that is, if typical, at least a step up from the labored, forced-cohabitation comedy/bathos concoctions of Tyler Perry, with religion thankfully kept to a minimum. If an easy-out is provided for everyone (except, of course, that bad mama, who gets her comeuppance), at least we're happy to see, in true romantic-comedy fashion, that there's a right guy for every gal. A word should be said, too, for Meagan Good (below, left, who plays the object of Cleavon's affection), whose beauty, charm and genuineness just about steal the movie.

35 and Ticking opens this Friday, May 20, in Baltimore, Atlanta and Washington DC. To see a listing of theaters and/or to purchase tickets, click here


Anonymous said...

Just wondering why this has to be the "African American" version and why you felt it necessary to compare this director and his film to Tyler Perry? Do you announce that a film is a "white" version if it's a concept that's already been done? Do you make a habit of comparing white directors? Just curious.

James van Maanen, said...

Hi, Anonymous (there are so MANY of you out there with the same name. Could you at least have used your middle name to better identify?)--

OK. Let's take these one by one:

This does not "have to be" the Afr-Am version. But it IS. 'Cause that's the way Russ Parr made it. It's not white, not Latino, not Asian or any other group. And since all the participants are Black, why not mention this fact? Even the film's own PR package sent out to us reviewers refers to this, so I am guessing the filmmaker doesn't mind my doing it, too.

Comparisons with Tyler Perry are apt, I think, because Mr. Perry is the most successful black filmmaker working today. Right? Doesn't that mean anything? Because of this, Perry becomes a kind of touchstone against whom others are compared, fair or not. I happen to dislike Perry's work, though I hold out hope of its getting more, well, nuanced. But as long as it continues to rake in millions, that hope is probably misplaced. (In any case his audiences seem more than happy with how he's doing things.)

I don't announce that a film is white, only because the vast majority of filmmakers ARE white, so for now (as for the past history of film and much else in the world), white stands as the "default setting" and controlling factor. I hope this changes before the world ends, but who knows?

And yes, if a concept were to have already been done by a Black, Hispanic or other filmmaker(and I was aware of it), I would indeed then refer to the new one as the "white" version.

Thanks for your comments -- which are bracing and worth my (and my readers') consideration. I now have considered and I hope answered somewhat to your satisfaction.