Medicine for Melancholy (Barry Jenkins, 2008): USA

Reviewed by Byron Potau.  Viewed at the LA International Film Festival

Medicine for Melancholy, from writer/director Barry Jenkins is a bittersweet tale of a one night stand and the day that follows, but also touches on the subjects of race, interracial relationships, and gentrification in the city of San Francisco.
Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and Joanne (Tracy Heggins) wake up in the house of a mutual friend, hung over from the party the night before and feeling very differently about the night of intimacy they shared.  Micah pursues Joanne to the point that she finally starts to give in to his charm, but is feeling guilty because she has a boyfriend, which is an issue with Micah because her boyfriend is white and they are both black.  They spend the rest of the day together talking, dancing, riding carousels, and riding their bikes all around San Francisco.  They do all the exploring of each other that should have happened the night before, and find that they really do like each other, but have some differing views about race and interracial relationships, as well as being from different classes.
Director Jenkins deftly handles the balance between the two characters as we find out more about them as they find out more about each other.  The acting is excellent, with Wyatt Cenac allowed to be a bit showier as the free spirited Micah.  The film also touches on the subject of gentrification, but never gets to preachy about that or any of its more serious topics, simply letting us know that these are issues present in the city.  Shot in black and white, Jenkins visual treatment of San Francisco itself shows a familiarity and affection for the city and really works to make it the third main character in the film.  The film’s soundtrack is a plus as well and works to give the scenes another dimension, never becoming overwhelming.  There are two ill advised French New Wave references, but other than that it never feels forced, yet the film does struggle a little to remain engaging throughout despite many charming moments of humor and poignancy to keep the viewer interested.

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