Medicine for Melancholy (2008) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Medicine for Melancholy (2008)

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Danny LIKEDelicacy in all of its beauteous forms is a hard proposition to capture in films. The lights, the crew, and the bombastic ideas all too often override all but the crassest nods to simplicity.

Sometimes you find it, though, and, when done exceptionally well, it's something to cherish.

Medicine for Melancholy walks just such a delicate tightrope, between nimbly rolling between issues of love, race, and class in a compact two person story.

They're Micah and Jo, and they woke up next to each other after a wild party. Neither one said much the night before, and neither do too much talking the next morning either after they've gotten dressed. Waiting in front of the house for a cab, Micah offers coffee and Jo reluctantly agrees.

They play against each other with a wonderfully tempered restraint. Micah makes aquariums, Jo makes t-shirts. She lives with her boyfriend who's out of town. Micah is recently heartbroken.

That the woman who broke Micah's heart was white and the man Jo lives with is the same becomes a point of contention during the day they spend together. How important is their race to their identity? How much of being who they are is based on their own perceptions and society's?

The film doesn't shy away from the questions and offers to no real answers-- if there even are any-- in and of themselves. The two characters bounce off each other into moments of personal reproach and joyous romanticism. They share their feelings of isolation, elation, and slow discovery. They both grow, but whether it's in any meaningful way is hard to say.

The film's look is absolutely sublime. Most of the film is fit to frame as each shot is delicately composed. San Francisco is shown here with none of the bombast of the cultural touchstones the city is usually represented by as we get a tour of its more obscure locations. Through this urban off the beaten path spelunking, the city itself becomes the third star of the film. It's an intimate look at the city from people who know it, and as such has rarely looked this lovely.

Medicine for Melancholy is shot with a desaturated look that's also notable. It's a black and white feature on the surface, but as the film progresses, subtle colors flow in and slowly transform the look. Tints of blues and reds flow freely as the emotional resonance of the movie takes hold. The only movie I can recall that does somewhat of the same thing is 2009's A Single Man, though Medicine for Melancholy is a string quartet to A Single Man's full blown orchestra.

Medicine is a remarkable film, something that seems akin to the social realism of the 70's or a quieter Before Sunset. It takes two people and gives them a day, it gives them one of the greatest cities in the world, and it gives them words. And put together, it's affecting, honest, and amazing.

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Medicine for Melancholy (2008)

This film is currently available on DVD.

Directed by Barry Jenkins Starring Tracey Heggins and Wyatt Cenac

Posted by Danny

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