All Things Fall Apart (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
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All Things Fall Apart (2011)

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I wish the best for Curtis Jackson.  For those of you unfamiliar with actors without the quotation marks around their better known stage names (see also: Dwayne Johnson), he's had more success under the banner of 50 Cent than as Mr. Jackson.  I still admire what he's tried to do, turning his life story into a pretty good biopic (Get Rich or Die Tryin') and producing All Things Fall Apart.

Much like the director, Mario Van Peebles, he's not going to be one of the greats.  This doesn't mean that Jackson does not have a great film in him.  I've watched him in straight-to-DVD flops and in very entertaining mainstream movies.  There is no reason to think that someone as savvy and, taking this film as evidence, socially conscious as Jackson isn't capable of something wonderful at least once.

But All Things Fall Apart is not that film.  It struggles mightily against weighty topics like race and the economy, existential notions of success, and then tries to place itself among the like of cancer addled films like Philadelphia.  No one involved is talented enough to really pull it off, but damn if I wasn't rooting for all of them to keep trying.

Deon (Jackson) was a star performer on the football field and his family was hoping for his success to get them out of their run down home and into the sunnier climes of Florida.  When he collapses, their fortunes turn completely sour and they start to pull themselves apart from within as no one is able to reconcile his sickness with the way they were anticipating him to carry their dreams.  We watch as he struggles to adjust back to a life where he's nobody special, save any reservoir of strength which let's him keep going.

In the broadest stereotypical analysis, this is the kind of film you'd expect on basic cable TV, not as a wide release.  But Jackson, who is also the executive producer and one of the screenwriters, tries to mix in some commentary about how America cannot sustain a true working class, especially one that has a minority long subjugated.  Mario Van Peebles reinforces Deon's new struggles with a plethora of background commentary on the status of the economy and a few too well timed reports about how much trouble it is for working black Americans to find jobs.

The problem is, the film is all very clumsy and far too broad in those strokes.  The cancer story has been seen time and time again, and the attempt at bringing in economic and social commentary comes off as something tacked on more than integrated into the story.  The broad nature of the plot pans into the acting as well, with Jackson (who really tries here) giving no projected emotion in his success and struggling to pull of the pathos in his sickness.  Lynn Whitfield, as his mother, also struggles to find a proper tone for her performance, resulting in a bizarre moment where she breaks down to talk to who I thought was God, but may have been just a poorly aimed monologue.

But even amidst the broad stabs at relevance there are some things to take away which are very good.  Mario Van Peebles has the most interesting performance of the film, even if it may be the most cliched, as the "coulda had it" former football player who now eggs his surrogate son on.  He's a restless performer, and always cackles onscreen with great energy.  Even Jackson, though he's clearly reaching, manages to wring in a few moments where I started to feel the empathy stirring.

There are also elements to his screenplay that show he's capable of hitting the nuances of daily living.  I really liked the way the relationship between his mother and stepfather was portrayed prior to his sickness, with a lot of love and honest, open affection instead of bickering and hostility.  It was refreshing to see and hit a lot of beats that are lacking in dramas outside of the school of Diablo Cody screenplay writing.

At the end, good intentions and flashes of decent writing don't make a good film.  Jackson really felt something here, and his willingness to completely transform himself speaks to how dedicated he is.  Still, at the end of the day, I don't know anything more or feel any differently before the film than after.  Sometimes that's a sign of failure, but the noble aspirations and potential talent on display hint at something more promising.

Which, for someone who has cancer, the promise of better things to come may be the single greatest success.

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All Things Fall Apart (2011)

Directed by Mario Van Peebles.
Screenplay by Curtis Jackson and Brian A Miller.
Starring Curtis Jackson, Mario Van Peebles, and  Lynn Whitfield.

Posted by Andrew

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