Movie Review - I Will Follow

Salli Richardson-Whitfield &
Omari Hardwick in "I Will Follow"
The African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM) was created to promote and distribute movies that Hollywood won't. Recently, Anthony Mackie was on Tavis Smiley, the PBS talk show commenting on how twenty years ago, there was John Singleton and Spike Lee as well as a host of other black filmmakers out there producing significant black movies for Hollywood. Now, within the past decade, the lack of black movies has been staggering.
Roland Martin of TV One's Washington Watch said the only exception has been Tyler Perry who has been getting major releases by Hollywood and that was only after Perry built up his audience and fan base independently. Now, AFFRM aims to do the same. There are more stories out there than Perry can tell, so AFFRM wants to take up the slack.
AFFRM made a deal with AMC Theaters to provide the space, and I Will Follow premiered in AMC Theaters in five major cities, including Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Seattle in March. It did so well in its first week that the movie was expanded to 15 cities, including Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Houston, Dallas, Detroit, Oakland, Miami, Charlotte and Jersey City, accounting for 22 screens total. It proved there is a market for these kinds of films. It made its last expansion in April, playing at the West End Cinema in Washington, DC.
Ava DuVernay wrote and directed I Will Follow. At the time of its release on March 11, it had a 100 % on Rotten Tomatoes. That number had fallen to 80 % by April. It didn't meet that website's requirements for a Certified Fresh, but, as far as I'm concerned, this movie is not only certified fresh but it's also quite perfect. DuVernay hits every note and doesn't misstep from beginning to end. The writing and acting are simple and superb. It is so well done that it rises easily as one of the best movies of 2011.
Salli Richardson-Whitfield stars as Maye. The story is about what Maye experiences in the period of 24 hours, from one morning when she wakes to the proceeding morning when she wakes again. Maye has been living in the country home of her late aunt Amanda. Amanda recently died and now Maye is faced with the task of packing up the home in the boonies and moving everything out. Throughout these 24 hours, several people visit Maye to help her with the move, including friends and family. Each of whom reveal a lot of deep felt issues in beautiful and heart-breaking ways.
Few of the friends who visit are there for only one scene and don't always offer upset but uplift. Whether it's her nurse friend, played by Tracie Thoms, who brings coffee or it's Damone Roberts, played by himself, who brings champagne. They're happy touchstones to all of the heavy stuff.
Another happy touchstone, which is like a funny and charming oasis to the grief Maye is experiencing over the death of her aunt Amanda and the tension between her cousin Fran, is the scene between Maye and her nephew, Raven, played by Dijon Talton (Glee). Maye and Raven sit down for some lunch and talk about hip hop music. For one, it shows what kind of person Maye is, that she herself, beyond compassion, is hip, savy, smart and that she is really into music. For two, it is perhaps the most intelligent conversation about hip hop music I've heard in the past five years.
It's also a conversation that echoes one that precedes it. Raven is an African-American teen who mentions a couple of music artists whom he thinks Maye who is in her late thirties wouldn't know about. In several flashbacks, we see how Maye's relationship with her aunt Amanda was. One flashback included Amanda mentioning a music album that she also thinks Maye wouldn't know anything about. The album in that example is The Joshua Tree.
But, that's what's interesting about DuVernay's screenplay. Amanda, played by Beverly Todd, like Maye is not what you might expect or knows what you might not expect. She certainly doesn't come off like many, stereotypical, African-American females portrayed in other, recent films. Amanda is a middle-aged woman, borderline elderly, although not old in any sense. She has a lively spirit up till the day she died. Because of her age and color, one might expect her to know only Motown or Jazz music, but, The Joshua Tree is a rock album. Instead of being just another R&B singer, Amanda was a black woman who wanted to be in a heavy metal band as a head-banging and stick-thrashing drummer.
It's a post-racial look at this woman, which is ironic as on Amanda's TV is a recording of Obama's election, an event that many people cited as the start of a post-racial era in America. But, as much as this movie is about people who are there for one another when in need, it's also about the people who aren't or can't be there.
Fran, played by Michole Briana White, is jealous of Maye and Amanda's relationship. Fran calls Maye a groupie who acted more out of fandom than what was best for anyone else. In fact, Fran blames Maye for the death and distance between her and her mother. Amanda is Fran's mom, but Fran wasn't around for Amanda's death. Maye was.
Evan, played by Blair Underwood, is also someone who isn't there, physically and perhaps emotionally. Troy, played by Omari Hardwick, is there physically and perhaps emotionally, but, in certain ways can't be there. Maye may be to blame for that as well.
DuVernay lays down some great tracks to indicate this movie is a great character study of Maye. Richardson-Whitfield is perfect in it, as she shows how one woman can be shaped or influenced by another. She says at one point, "I just did what she did." She embodies the U2 song, which titles this movie.
Yet, DuVernay's direction and practically every shot she takes stock of all that's important to tell this story. Ostensibly, this movie follows a woman as she has to pack up boxes for an important move, but DuVernay also packs up this woman or rather unpacks her on screen in order to move us who should watch.
Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but Recommended for General Audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 28 mins.
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