Critics’ Connection: Blackbird

Blackbird

Synopsis:  Seventeen-year-old Randy tries very hard to be a good person. Since his father left, Randy takes care of his emotionally disturbed mother, and he’s the kind of friend all of his classmates can depend on. As strong as he seems on the outside, Randy is hiding a secret inner struggle and denial of his true self. It’s not until he opens himself up to love that he discovers that becoming a man means accepting who you really are.

Starring: Mo’Nique, Isaiah Washington, Kevin Allesee, Gary L. Gray, Nikki Jane, Torrey Laamar, Terrell Tilford, D. Woods and introducing Julian Walker. Director: Patrik-Ian Polk. Writers: Rikki Beadle Blair, Patrik-Ian Polk.  Source:  Official site, blackbirdthemovie.com.

What the critics are saying about Blackbird:

The Washington Post:  Randy is a Southern choirboy who turns to a portrait of Jesus on his bedroom wall when times get tough. His friends make the distinction between a real sin and a “Randy sin,” because the teen — a virgin who doesn’t curse, drink or stir up trouble — sets such a high bar for appropriate behavior. There’s just one thing. Randy has been having erotic dreams about one of his male classmates. And, despite his prayers, Jesus isn’t making them go away. That’s the tricky dilemma at the center of Blackbird, Randy’s religion is at odds with his nature.

But that essential and important struggle is hardly the movie’s only conundrum — and that’s the melodrama’s biggest flaw. Anything that can go wrong, will — often in spectacular fashion.  Regardless, the heart of the movie is in the right place. And although some of the acting from the younger stars comes across as amateurish, a few performances truly shine, especially those of Oscar winner Mo’Nique and Isaiah Washington, who play Randy’s mother and father. Mo’Nique, who also produced the movie with her husband, Sidney Hicks, proves her talent here, turning in a powerful performance as a heartbroken woman who has lost one child and emotionally abandoned the other.

But Washington is even stronger in his more understated role. He comes across as a macho guy, but in one sweet moment, he vows to love his son no matter what. It’s such a quiet, simple moment in a movie full of more overwrought ones, but it makes a lasting impression. Blackbird would have benefited from using that approach more, rather than saddling a compelling drama with so much extra baggage. Read the full review at The Washington Post.

Ion Cinema: The blatant underrepresentation of black gay characters in film, whatever letter they’re placed into on the inclusive LGBT spectrum, is simply not reason enough to appreciate the elemental contrivances of Patrik-Ian Polk’s Blackbird.

The title has been inadvertently thrown into a higher caliber pop culture zeitgeist thanks to its distinction as Mo’Nique’s first post-Oscar role since her 2009 win for Best Supporting Actress in Precious. Kudos to Mo’Nique’s portrayal of religious fanaticism as the mental illness it looks and sounds like, but unfortunately her Claire Rousseau devolves into the wrong kind of camp, another wacky, weird, abusive matriarchal figure. Isaiah Washington strikes a more appropriate figure as Randy’s liberal minded father. This portrait of southern, familial angst could have been more successful had we left behind several tangents, notably the kidnapping of Randy’s younger sister, which his mother cites is God’s punishment of the family for his gayness.

Some very talented younger performers struggle to overcome contrivance, such as actors playing Randy’s friends like Nicole Lovince and Gary LeRoi Gray (who might have made a better Randy). Newcomer Julian Walker’s performance often feels like we’re watching high school theater, and isn’t up to the task of portraying the subtleties needed for a conflicted character such as Randy.

The familiar floridness of Blackbird renders it both inarticulate and flimsy, especially if compared to recent fare like Dee Rees’ beautiful Pariah (2011).   Read the full review at ioncinema.com.

One Room With A View:  It would be difficult to find a more earnest film than Blackbird, which is forthright, incisive and often heart-meltingly sweet. It is precisely this earnestness that holds our interest during the thematically bloated story. Blackbird implements a melodramatic style – perhaps more appropriate to the stage – which maximizes the dramatic effects. Unfortunately the theatricality also strains the plausibility and, ultimately, impact of the tale.  Despite the various inconsistencies, this is a well-made, emotionally engaging and entertaining watch. Read the full review at oneroomwithaview.com.

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