It’s out on DVD today, so I’m reposting my early review of the film… (we’re giving 5 copies away, so you should be watching for contest posts).
Also worth noting, I interviewed Ava DuVernay just days after her brainchild, the African American Film Festival Release Movement (AFFRM) was announced, in January, and I encourage you to listen to that 40-minute conversation, if you haven’t already. Do so HERE.
Here’s the review:
Quite possibly one of the most evocative scenes comes about ¾ of the way through the film, in an unexpectedly moving sequence of exchanges between the character played by Omari Hardwick and Salli Richardson-Whitfield’s leading lady. Moments of sincere, intimate interplay between man and woman, bursting with sensuality, leading up to a final revelation that even this writer didn’t predict, all punctuated by a moody, yet beautiful accompanying soundtrack.
It’s a truly memorable, well-written arrangement of action and reaction, played beautifully by both actors, notably the gentle giant Hardwick, who demonstrates a combined strength and vulnerability, a complexity we don’t get to experience much in black male characters on screen; Richardson’s is an opportunity lost, regret, and an eventual rebirth of sorts, as our lead protagonist buries herself in a bathtub, immersed in solitude, reflecting on what may have been one of the most trying days of her entire life.
It’s credible, vivid performances like these (as well as the rest of the supporting cast), in quietly intense, well-executed details, that give Ava DuVernay’s fictional narrative debut its verisimilitude – emphasized by the fact that the writer/director cut her teeth in the realism of documentary filmmaking, and she herself calls the film semi-autobiographical. It’s a deeply personal, reflective chamber drama. Ingmar Bergman would smile.
By now I’m sure we all are familiar with the film’s plot, so I won’t fully rehash.
A film of this nature lives and dies on the strength of its performances. And its cast, comprised of seasoned thespians (Beverly Todd, who’s divine here) and rising stars (Dijon Talton notably), unquestionably delivers. Michole White’s turn as, for all intents and purposes, our resident “villain” is rich with complexities. I believed them all.
I Will Follow takes place roughly in a single 24-hour period, entirely in one location, with a smattering of characters, laconically narrating its story. I think most filmmakers would agree on the kinds of challenges that setup immediately presents, especially if an integral part of one’s intent is to entertain. But this is an adult movie for adults, and even more explicitly, for women – a rarity in an era dominated by material made specifically for 18 to 30 year old males. Not that the work can’t be universally appreciated. There’s a solid story in there, with themes and issues of cosmopolitan import carried throughout the entire film. A straightforward narrative that takes its time developing, and doesn’t exactly scream its arrival.
But director DuVernay believes in the maturity and intelligence of her audience, refraining from spoon-feeding, and the kind of didactic speechifying and mawkishness that sometimes plagues films of its ilk. You’re essentially dropped in the middle of the aftermath, with little more than hints of what once was, in this claustrophobic ride with Richardson-Whitfield in the driver’s seat; and your appreciation for the film will depend almost entirely on whether you believe her and the many scenarios she lives through; the vacating home, a revolving door of faces from her past, present, and maybe even future, each providing us with clues as to who this woman really is.
There’s a deftness and a confidence in DuVernay’s direction that propels what could have been an otherwise tedious experimental narrative, forward; you sense her control, and, you ultimately give in. She was also smart in ensuring that the film scats along in a well-paced, brisk 81 minutes.
It’s what I’d call a meat and potatoes kind of effort. No gimmicks, no ostentatious nor pretentious displays – except for the occasional flashback sequence, shot in what looked like a color-saturated glow, delineating the subtle differences between the present and the past. This writer is usually not a fan of flashbacks, but I found those in I Will Follow, a nice touch, and appreciated how they positively affected the film’s progression, and, ironically (given the content of those sequences) provided just enough well-timed humor throughout the mostly dramatic film.
So it doesn’t take place totally in a state of depression or despondency.
I Will Follow is both remarkable for its accomplishments, and unremarkable in the sense that it does feel somewhat familiar – the intent here being to emphasize that it isn’t so niche that it can’t be appreciated by mainstream audiences.
It’s an ambitious little film, given its thin budget, and while not flawless, I thought it to be a smart, sincere effort, and an auspicious start from Ms DuVernay.