Spike Lee's latest film, Red Hook Summer, just debuted at Sundance and already people are comparing it with his early classic, Do the Right Thing. Both films take place in Lee's hometown, Brooklyn. Critics are saying the new movie is nowhere as good as Do the Right Thing. And yet, almost everyone found it in some way compelling.
And that's why I still want to see Red Hook Summer -- even though it's 130 minutes long, even though everyone who's seen it left the theater shaking their heads. Spike Lee is one of the few filmmakers who is seriously rolling up his sleeves and exploring the meaning of race in America -- and for that reason alone he deserves my attention.
Oh I know, we got The Help this year. True, it produced some juicy roles and Oscar opportunities to talented black actors, and it gave us a window into black lives in the 1960s American South. But it was told from the perspective of a white character. And when it comes to movies about race, I am far more interested in hearing a story from a person of color's perspective. It's a perspective we don't hear from nearly enough, especially in wide-release movies. Another smart film about race, Pariah, has gotten much less attention.
Red Hook Summer is about the summer Flick, a middle-class boy from Atlanta, spends with his grandmother in the projects in Red Hook, Brooklyn. There are culture clashes, a mohawk haircut, a pedophile, and a preacher grandfather -- and if it's a mess of a movie, it sounds like an intriguing, operatic one.
Robert Levin of The Atlantic calls it a "fiasco" and a "long-winded, rambling mess." Eric Kohn of Indiewire says it's "routinely afflicted with sloppiness" and has "gaping plot holes." But he also says it's Lee's "most sincere film yet" and concludes that "even a weak Spike Lee joint is better than no Spike Lee joint at all." Damon Wise in The Guardian says that near the end there's a 10- to 15-minute stretch of "nirvana" that's worth sitting through the whole movie: "For a short time the old Spike is with is: tender, sharp, smart -- but above all dramatic."
Red Hook is reportedly about Spike Lee's vision of what black life is about in 21st century America. It's an impossible task -- black life in America is too diverse and multifaceted to squeeze into one movie. But that doesn't stop Spike from trying, and I kind of love him for that.
Do you like Spike Lee movies? Are you interested in seeing Red Hook Summer?
Image via 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks