Tuesday, 20 January 2015

REVIEW - DEAR WHITE PEOPLE (JUSTIN SIMIEN)


It's easier to refine one's skills when one has too many of them, and must scale back, than when one has too few, and must invest in more. Justin Simien has a knack for a great many elements of filmmaking, as evidenced in Dear White People, and perhaps someday he may be capable of crafting a feature that showcases his skills in full; as his career as a writer / director remains in its infancy, though, he'd benefit from directing his efforts toward one or two of those skills. A leaner, simpler film does not a lesser one make, indeed it's hard to imagine that Dear White People wouldn't have been a more powerful film with some judicious trimming. It could have done without the stylistic affectations, which serve no narrative nor thematic purpose: Simien's static compositions and rudimentary blocking are basic techniques, and feel that way. It couldn't have done without the overt politicising: that's this film's throbbing heart, and thus its supply of fuel throughout. A procession of caricatures collides, ideologies and their practices forced to integrate or to repel one another. So what if it's not subtle? It's very enjoyable, and it's also very accurate. It could have done without the trite dramatic structure: this cheapens Simien's more pertinent points, in particular an abundance of romantic subplots that are interminable in their inevitability. It couldn't have done without the comedy: Simien understands that this is a natural byproduct of his political grandstanding, and wisely doesn't reject it. In fact, it's canny to posit his own ideological notions through humour - they insinuate themselves in the audience's consciousness less blatantly but no less insistently. The strength of what Simien's pushing, both technically and politically, would have been that bit more powerful, and more impressive, had he scaled back a little. He'll hopefully know better for next time.