ETHEREAL AS WELL AS DOWN-N-DIRTY
Erica Hector Vital
Red Rock Review
Las Vegas Round The Clock
Written/Directed by Bryan Barber
IDLEWILD: Ethereal as Well as Down-n-Dirty
For all its promise as the latest return to a bygone era of lindyhopping,
juke joint drama, and sultry torch song singers in feather boas, the OutKast
driven vehicle IDLEWILD is closer to Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist as a
Young Man, closer to Proust: Remembrance of Things Past, and closer to
Prince Rogers Nelson circa Purple Rain and Graffiti Bridge. In other words,
more than a picturesque period piece about bootlegging and wild women,
writer/ director Bryan Barber and hip-hop/funk raconteurs Andre Benjamin and
Antwan “Big Boi” Patton have constructed a film about art and the struggle
to make it.
From the opening credits
to the obligatory car chase, the element of out and out creation, of filling
each frame with beats of design and desire move IDLEWILD from momentary blip
on the pop radar screen to classic cult film status.
With touted performances by Cicely Tyson and Patti La Belle, Ben Vereen and
Vhing Rhames, there is the suspicion of getting more of the same in Black
kitcsh. No film set in the musical mix of the thirties can avoid
resurrecting images and references to such progenitors of the period piece
as Ragtime, St. Louis Blues, and dare I say it, Harlem Nights. But it is
with the infusion of Paula Patton as singer Angel Davenport, Malinda
Williams as Zora, the long-suffering yet savvy wife to Antwan Patton’s
“Rooster”, Terrence Howard as Trumpy, the new kingpin on the block, and Macy
Gray as Taffy, a hardened blues queen, that restores the look and feel of a
film meant to dance with one foot on the stage of its Black film forebears
and the other hovering in the ethereal new.
assume a life of their own in a world made of treble lines and bass, time
stands still, death reigns and love is lost and found in flights of
magical-realism we have come to associate with the Latin-American oeuvre of
film makers Pedro Almodovar and the godfather of the fantastic, Luis Bunuel.
IDLEWILD is gorgeous to look at, full of light and shadow, kisses in the
rain, and dance and song productions that jump from the screen. But there
are also moments of the banal, Faizon Love, either tarries too long or was
not used to his fullest as club owner Ace. And I wanted more of a surprise
from Taffy, the bitter chantuese channeled up by Macy Gray – there was more
beneath the surface of that woman that in the end fell back to short-hand
caricature. And I truly feel now is the time for dream-boat Terrence Howard
to get back on that boat and give us a romantic lead to supplant the tough
guy persona Howard does here and in other films so well and too often.
The power struggle
between Howard’s murderous Trumpy and Antwan Patton’s Rooster, is palpable.
We get the sense that this is a battle of wills played out among rivals from
the boardrooms of Wall Street to the backrooms of Beale. Again, Howard can
do no wrong in such roles. The dichotomy of good looks and cold behavior is
irresistible. There is no doubt that in spite of the sexy energy of starlets
Paula Jai Parker (Lexus of Hustle&Flow), Malinda Williams (Soul Food) and
Paula Patton, the men in IDLEWILD hold sway. Antwan Patton is a natural
rogue. There is a menace and a charm in his sideways grin that those who
caught his feature film debut as the drug-dealing Marcus in ATL glimpsed
earlier. That charm comes fully to light here under Barber’s direction.
What makes this new
effort both contemporary and old school, again harkening back to Joyce and
his struggle with the demons within and without and the King of Kings Prince
and his battle with his alter-ego Morris Day, are the conjoined stories in
IDLEWILD of thuggery and art. The makings of each truly rely on the dealings
of the other as Rooster and Andre Benjiman’s Percival hustle to edge closer
to a hustler’s or an artist’s ideal. Andre Benjiman as the piano playing,
avant garde composer Percival, heir to a funeral parlor, living under the
tyranny of his father’s house, is a face for the ages. Benjiman, like
Prince, like Jagger, like Iggy Pop, possesses the rock star’s look of the
starved, of artistry pared down to greyhound slimness – when one is consumed
by a passion one is truly consumed, whittled down to large eyes, long limbs
and haunting smile, full of teeth and dreams.
I wanted more of him
too. More on stage. Benjiman is realer than real when singing. When he is
seated at the piano in the final moments of the film it becomes clear what
his brand of genuis would have meant, and did truly mean, during the
thirties when in tails and tie, the other half of the OutKast duo croons ala
Nat King Cole his own crunk and p-funk-ti-fied lyrics mingling the fantastic
with the profane which is exactly the thrust and the wit of IDLEWILD. More
than a film it is a celebration of the down-n-earthy and the
lofty-and-experimental found in jazz, birthed in funk and kicking back to
life in Black art.
Three Chicks for Story--a little derivative--a little overdrawn. Five Chicks
for Cinematic beauty and depth of vision. A movie to own.