In his feature directorial debut, longtime television writer/EP Charles Murray takes a turn from TV action-drama to deliver a decidedly black love story reminiscent of the late ’90s heyday of the genre.
Things Never Said centers on Kal (Shanola Hampton), an aspiring spoken word artist using poetry to escape the pain of a miscarriage and an abusive husband (Elimu Nelson). As an LA native, she dreams of performing at the famed Nuyorican Poets Café in New York. When Kal falls for Curtis (Omari Hardwick), a poetry fan with a whole heap of emotional baggage of his own, the two must decide if they have an affair worth preserving.
You could call it a grown-up love story, which points to the complexities of all relationships. Nobody gets off easy – Kal’s best friend Daphne (Tamala Jones) also has a rocky relationship with her boyfriend Steve (Dorian Missick), and the two women dither between supporting each other and judging each other’s choices. Likewise, the flawed marriage of Kal’s parents (Charlayne Woodard, Tom Wright) is cited as the spark for the pattern of abuse in Kal’s life.
Dealing with heavy topics like adultery and abuse that can easily drift into melodrama, Murray ultimately reins it in and makes this a story about the beauty of black love – literally and figuratively. The well-shot film (lensed by Beats, Rhymes & Life DP Robert Benavides and Ryan Hase) offers plenty of artful scenes of black bodies embracing and revels in the beauty of its two leads. Omari Hardwick is quickly becoming the go-to leading man for movies like this, and here he doesn’t disappoint as the tough guy with a sensitive core.
With its focus on spoken word and romance, as Tambay has mentioned, comparisons to Love Jones are inevitable, and I wonder if maybe that’s the point. Audiences have long complained about the lack of black love stories since they faded from prominence over a decade ago. And Things Never Said hits all the familiar ticks of the genre – good-looking couple, healthy dose of drama, grown-and-sexy soundtrack. Murray delivers a technically tight screenplay, infused with a bit of his trademark wit, and poetic in its own right (apparently he wrote Kalindra’s spoken word pieces himself.) The film feels a little more polished and predictable, a little less raw and real, than Theodore Witcher’s 1997 film felt at times, but it nevertheless scratches an itch that has been felt by moviegoers for some time.
In the end, Things Never Said is a good-looking film that knows whom it’s trying to please. Now that Murray has made his foray into the genre, we’ll be interested to see what comes next.
Things Never Said has its final screening at the American Black Film Festival tomorrow, Saturday afternoon at 1:40pm.