Blindspotting

They didn’t screen this movie for the critics here, so I headed to the Angelika Film Center to check it out last night. I’m glad I did. My wife and I loved it. And we both went into it not expecting much. I mean…I just saw a movie I liked last week that tackled racial issues and police brutality (Sorry to Bother You), and wondered if another one would just be preachy and heavy-handed. Nope. And it’s like I’ve always said, if there’s art that’s great, I don’t care if it has similarities to something else. In music the critics complain if a band sounds too much like another band (The Black Crowes sounding too much like the Stones, the White Stripes sounding too much like Zeppelin, etc.). But if you like the music, who cares? I have the same attitude with movies. I don’t care if I see 10 movies in one week, and they all deal with the same topic, as long as they’re entertaining.    

Blindspotting may have a few themes that have been tackled before, but it’s an original piece of filmmaking, that was highly entertaining. I hated the title (which reminded me of Trainspotting), but after it’s explained by a character late in the film (in a scene that brought tears to my eyes), I dug it.

This was written almost a decade ago by Daveed Diggs (Hamilton and Wonder) and his friend Rafael Casal — both of whom star in the movie. They have terrific chemistry, and the dialogue is sharp. It comes across as a love letter to Oakland, and about the loyalty of friends.

It’s refreshing that, just like in Sorry to Bother You (and, sorry to bother you with more comparisons to that film), they may show police brutality, but they don’t go over the top with it. It’s not like the police are just pulling people over randomly, or they’re not getting preachy about it. Even a police shooting that we see isn’t justified, it’s not like the guy they shot was a saint, or the cops planted evidence. It’s so much more interesting to have that written this way. This guy had obviously broken the law and was a criminal, but didn’t deserve to be shot in the back while running away. It’s also refreshing that that wasn’t the entire movie. It’s a part of a handful of stories these guys are going through.

Collin (Daveed Diggs) is shown getting out of prison and being put on probation. He gets a job with a moving company, where he works with his childhood friend Miles (Casal). His ex-girlfriend Val (Janina Gavankar of True Blood) works the front desk and got him the gig. You can tell they still have feelings for each other, but she’s obviously lost a lot of respect for him after his stint in jail. Especially since he’s still hanging out with Miles, who she knows is a troublemaker. We see that when they’re in a car that has a variety of guns, one of which Miles is buying. The way Collin asks to be let out of the car at that moment, is both humorous and stressful. He’s such a likable guy, we just don’t want this to blow up in his face. And he’s not the only likable character. As much as we wish he’d distance himself from Miles, he’s kind of interesting, too. He’s great with his wife and kid, and has some good qualities. Speaking of his wife (and Val), it was nice to see two strong female characters. You could make the argument that they should’ve been in the movie more, but this is a buddy picture involving the two guys; and these women are terrific in the scenes they do have, always trying to steer them down the right path. On a somewhat related note, the only two actors I knew going into this movie (Tisha Campbell-Martin of the show Martin, and Wayne Knight, who was Newman on Seinfeld), weren’t in much of the film.

Collin is always rushing to get back home before curfew (he’s living at a halfway-house with strict rules), and at a red light, he witnesses a white cop (Ethan Embry) shoot a black guy he was chasing down the street. He figures it won’t do any good to tell the “authorities” as he’s not the most credible (a felon who is late for curfew) witness. And in one of many brilliant things this movie does…they show how it affects him, but without going over the top. He has a few nightmares. He thinks about it when he’s out jogging. He discusses it with Miles, but doesn’t seem to merely be dwelling on it. It doesn’t keep him from flirting with his ex, or joking around with co-workers.

So the movie deals with gentrification, gun control, race, and how you can’t always judge a book by its cover. Yet it does it in an entertaining, nicely paced, and very believable way.

What also balances out all the heavy sh** going down here, is lots of humor. And most of the jokes land. There’s one where Miles is giving Collin a hard time for trying to change, telling him he’s going to be riding a Vespa to go buy groceries at Whole Foods. There’s a pause before Collin replies, “They have great produce.”

There’s a scene where Miles, always the salesman (for things they pick-up during their moving job), is fast-talking to a guy in an SUV about buying a boat they’re selling. It’s like a rap battle, going back and forth really quickly. It reminded me of the scene in Airplane! where Barbara Billingsley is talking jive to some black passengers that the other flight attendant couldn’t understand.

There’s also a scene where someone (Utkarsh Ambudkar) describes the fight Collin was in. It’s hysterical on so many levels. And, when that same fight is discussed with the ex-girlfriend, it’s heartbreaking.

This is director Carlos Lopez Estrada’s first film, and he does a great job keeping a cohesive narrative with all that’s going on.

It gets extra points for a solid soundtrack, that included a few Tower of Power tunes, Weezer, and some songs from the writers themselves.

My review of this movie, along with my praise of Sorry to Bother You, is exactly why I’ve been on this rant about actress Mindy Kaling’s idiotic statements recently. She said that old white guys shouldn’t review movies that have black characters, because they’re not the target audience. When she does garbage like A Wrinkle in Time and Ocean’s 8, that’s on her, not the critics. We’ll praise the movies that are good, no matter what color the cast is. And that’s why this movie is getting excellent reviews. Even from us old white guys.

4 stars out of 5.