Dir: Spike Lee. 1994. Starring: Alfre Woodard, Delroy Lindo, Zelda Harris, Carlton Williams. English. Black Cinema/Comedy/Drama

Crooklyn is a love letter from Spike Lee to his youth. Co-written with his sister Joie and brother Cinque, it draws from memories of their childhood growing up in Brooklyn. It is the story of the Carmichael family made up of a jazz musician father, an overworked and harried schoolteacher mother and 5 children. Seen from the eyes of ten year old Troy, the only daughter, we see the chaos and turbulent joy, frustration and sorrow of the Carmichael family. The movie plays like impressions with abrupt shifts from comedy to drama and has no political or dramatic motivation other than a look at life through the eyes of a child. Even without this the movie provides a true emotional arc and one is absorbed by the nostalgic and slightly foreign era where children are not afraid to play in the streets or confront crazy neighbors. Nobody walks around shaded by hooded sweatshirts and assuming menacing anonymity simply for their own protection. The only drug users are two ridiculous glue sniffers who are the neighborhood's sad joke.

When we follow Troy, who visits her relatives in Virginia, there is a wonderful shift of perspective as the differences in environment and behavior are cataloged and deciphered through her eyes. You can feel the strength of her mother rise to the surface as she adapts and dismisses affection and manners from her southern family. There is no arguing her demand to go home and, once there, she must draw on that strength again to see herself and her family through tragedy.

The genius of Crooklyn is its imbalance. Layer upon layer of everyday life through the eyes of a child give a beautiful and lasting portrait of not a single life but of an era and somehow manages to make you feel part of it, even if you grew up 1800 miles away in a small Texas town that never heard of stoops or the Knicks. The entire cast give wonderful performances, especially the Carmichael family whose interactions feel as natural and as rooted in love and frustration as any can be. Alfre Woodard as Carolyn Carmichael is a fierce and frightening committed mother of her clan whose tender moments are all the more powerful for their sweetness and subtlety. Delroy Lindo as the father gives the family heart with his own childlike naivety but also throws them into financial jeopardy, while the children behave like true siblings with bickering and jokes, torture and protection.

Crooklyn is not his most powerful or stirring film but it's one of my favorites of any film. Watching it feels like watching a master painter who takes a break from frenzied genius and dabbles in memories simply for the joy of painting, playfully incorporating all of his skill and knowledge into a small masterpiece.

Posted by:
Jessica Kaman
Feb 27, 2008 3:39pm
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