It’s safe to say that there will never be a mumblecore movie that will punch a hole through the Earth, culturally speaking. There may be one that murmurs its way through the Earth, but that will be about it. This is because the genre is almost stringently non-ambitious, part of backlash to the backlash against talky independent movies, maybe? Regardless, if you love watching two characters calmly talk about stuff for a couple of hours, this is the genre for you.
The mumbling begins when Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and Jo (Tracey Heggins) wake up after a one night stand, hungover and bleary-eyed. Micah is immediately taken with her and she’s so not hot on the idea that she won’t even tell him her real name. But – just as in any mainstream romantic comedy – Micah is so persistent and charming, she starts to warm to him. Even though the film does follow this cliche, there is something here miles more convincing than in anything out of the major studios. The naturalistic rhythms of two people getting to know each other – existing somewhere between between like and love – makes sense and comes across effortlessly.
As Micah and Jo’s relationship develops over the next twenty-four hours, Micah reveals himself to be a man obsessed with statistics, stereotypes and the decline of his beloved San Francisco. Jo comes off aloof at first – she’s not as interested in the political underpinnings of every little thing. She thinks Micah is one of “those people” who believe that black history month is February because it’s the shortest month of the year. And, of course, he is.
This is how much of the film plays. Micah and Jo warm to each other as they dissect social mores and argue the finer points of what it means to be young and black in America and especially in San Francisco. An undercurrent of San Francisco politics plays throughout, too, coming to the forefront in one abrupt scene in which Micah and Jo stop and listen to a group talking about gentrification and its impact in the city. Jenkins has already laid so much groundwork for this scene that it plays well despite being otherwise completely out of place. The larger politics of the city and the smaller politics of these two people mirror each other. There’s been a loss of love and romance, that’s for sure. And no one knows for sure how to get back to that better time. But everyone seems to be trying.
While Medicine for Melancholy is the sedatest date movie ever, Cenac keeps things sharp and without him, the whole thing could’ve been a wash. Not the Heggins doesn’t come off well, but Cenac is given the real meat to play and Heggins only gets to play off of that. Still, she does a very good job serving as the target for his barbs as well as his affections. She’s no victim and she’s no hero, but she knows her mind and has no problem speaking it. The friction between the two works and makes the resulting ‘day after’ believable – not a small feat considering how many movies try and fail at this kind of natural relationship stuff every year.
The look of the film is worth mentioning, too. Seldom does the low-budget film come off looking this solid, as if the filmmakers actually went for a look and got it instead of playing off their crappy DV footage as lo-fi chic. There’s a beautiful golden look to the whole thing that puts it as much in a world of fantasy as the dialogue puts it in the here and now.
The film is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and there was love put into this videography. The graininess is almost gauzy and suits the film perfectly. The audio in English 2.0 Dolby Surround with English and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital plus Spanish, French and Portuguese subtitles.
Director’s Notes: An In-Depth Interview with Barry Jenkins at the London Film Festival – A podcast interview over breakfast with writer/director Barry Jenkins. Besides the clanging background noise, this is good stuff. (21:25)
Trailer – (2:04)
Medicine for Melancholy is a simple movie that sometimes moves too slow, but delivers a real, heartfelt story that’s worth a watch.
IFC Films presents Medicine for Melancholy. Directed by: Barry Jenkins. Starring: Wyatt Cenac, Tracey Heggins. Written by: Barry Jenkins. Running time: 88min. Rating: Not Rated. Released on DVD: October 27, 2009. Available at Amazon.com