The Inkwell

Dir: Matty Rich, 1994. Starring: L. Tate, J. Morton, S. Douglas, G. Turman, V. B. Calloway, J. P. Smith. Black Cinema.
The Inkwell

A "vacation film" seems to be in order before the summer ends, so I chose an old favorite of mine which was set in the '70s and has early performances from several great actors, many whom have been forgotten, and others who rose to stardom. Larenz Tate (Menace II Society, Why Do Fools Fall In Love) plays the leading role as a young teenage boy named Drew. It's difficult to explain why you start to feel for his character very early on, but I'm sure it has to do with his disposition. Besides being a shy virgin whose only friend is his doll, his parents Brenda (Suzzanne Douglas) and Kenny (Joe Morton) seem convinced that he is mentally disturbed and that a blaze he recently set in the house might not have been an accident. With all the bad vibes floating around they decide to spend the Fourth of July weekend at Brenda's sister's house in Martha's Vineyard.

Upon arrival, things go exactly as they seemed to go for me when I was young and going on family vacations. In fact, I think this is one of the few films I've seen that hits the awkwardness of distant and eccentric relatives on the nose. There's that annoying first night when you're not in your own bed—the aggravation from your cousin(s) who are either more boring than you thought any teenager could possibly be, or worse, they're too cool to socialize with you. For Drew, his problem rests in the latter as his cousin, Junior, is a pompous, smooth-talking bully. But Drew isn't the only one having problems with the relatives, and the narrative of the film works wonders by having people for his parents to hate as well, thus putting them in their son's shoes for once. Brenda's sister Francis (Vanessa Bell Calloway) and her husband Spencer (Glynn Turman) are two conservatives who have all the great Republican presidents' portraits on their wall, while Kenny is a former Black Panther and Brenda wears a dashiki. As you can imagine, things get quite messy between both the youngsters and the adults.

While on vacation Drew receives a sort of psychiatric evaluation from a warm and earthy woman who just about anyone would feel comfortable talking to. She admires his sensitivity and makes him feel comfortable about talking to a doll, but most of all, she allows him to defend himself in terms of the fire. When not talking to her, Drew stays very busy. He goes to the disco with his cousin Junior or posts as a wallflower at the many lavish and rowdy parties that Spencer throws at his house, but his favorite thing to do is frequent the beach. There he comes across Lauren Kelly (Jada Pinkett Smith), a snooty waif with whom he becomes smitten. From then on, he tries desperately to amuse her and eventually succeeds. The two ride around town on his tandem bicycle, but their relationship resembles that of cousins more than anything romantic, which is a hard blow for Drew. Things take a turn, seemingly for the worse, when the adults begin to fist fight and no progress is being made with getting to know Lauren better, nor does it help that his cousin Junior keeps heckling him about his virginity. So while wandering away from all of them for a day or two, he meets a very attractive older woman who treats him with respect and equality. Their friendship grows much more naturally than with anyone else and when he discovers that her husband (played by Morris Chestnut) is cheating on her, his loyalty sparks feelings between the two that are far from your average friendship.

This is a coming of age story that has two wonderful parts. In some ways, Drew's father is coming into a new sense of manhood while trying desperately to reach out and understand his son and save the shaky relationship he has with his wife. In the end, he must ask himself what he is missing out on by being a full-time revolutionary, just as Drew is learning about emotions, first loves and, of course, heartbreak. I think Joe Morton gave an outstanding supporting role, and I'm not just saying that because I adored his performance in The Brother From Another Planet. The Inkwell is sweet and well-layered in a way that everyone can relate to. It helped me when I was a pre-teen to understand that we will always be growing (hopefully) and becoming less and less juvenile, but it also stresses the importance of being yourself and hanging on to what harmless neurosis you have, or unique quirks if nothing else. Hands down my favorite summer movie.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Aug 3, 2010 4:21pm
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