The movie is a mad, marvelous verbal war, an uninterrupted battle of comic insults, and it starts with a grandiloquent verbal explosion.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"Crooklyn" is a startling departure for Spike Lee. His earlier work has been a primal scream that forces us, from whatever perspective we inhabit, to recognize the rage around us. He has explored the problems of class, race, and gender while shooting from all angles at persistent myths and stereotypes. This movie is a breather, a moment of reprieve and reflection for a front-line warrior. With his brother and sister he has made a collective reminiscence that is surprisingly gentle for a man who has his finger on the pulse of contemporary anger.

In Crooklyn, children invent variations on the games of urban childhood, which fit the confines of the stoops that are the boundaries of their lives. They rag each other mercilessly, but they are safe. There is no violence on Spike Lee's block.

They may be safe, but they are not quiet. The movie is a mad, marvelous verbal war, an uninterrupted battle of comic insults, and it starts with a grandiloquent verbal explosion. Carolyn Carmichael (Alfre Woodard) commands her five children to have the kitchen spotless by bedtime. When she returns at four a.m. to sloth and slop, she routs every last one of them out of bed in the middle of the night, lines them up against the wall, and delivers her lecture. She's Patton at Bastogne, spewing bombast at her children, who are corporals in this mom's army.

Getting the troops to eat right is a lost cause. The dinner table establishes the rhythm for the entire movie: conversational combat without pause. The trouble always starts with a minor clash and escalates to the full boil perfect pitch of the Carmichaels' dialogue. This family argues to a rap rhythm. Insult is the language of love.

Dad is a blues musician in eclipse. Unnoticed in the shadow of rock, he is sure the sun will shine on his music again, but he feels very sorry for himself as he waits. Cradling his children's heads in his huge, gentle hands, Woody (Delroy Lindo) gives them love as their anchor. Meanwhile, Mom carries the load and gradually begins to buckle under the weight of it. As Woody and Carolyn, Delroy Lindo and Alfre Woodard are a deeply touching pair. Woodard may be the only actress around who can look stunning full-time as a mother of five and make it seem real. On the downside, the movie is overlong because it lacks focus. Lee is a provocateur, not a storyteller. Once he has painted the culture of his family and their block, he has no place to go. In a burst of self-indulgent temper, he sends Troy, the eldest daughter, off to visit relatives in an appallingly sterile version of southern suburbia. Slap, slap, Suburbia, take that.

This movie is about the author's nostalgia, and Spike Lee's nostalgia turns everything shimmery right. It's his childhood, and don't let anybody mess with how he remembers it. On most counts, his memory is our reward.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 500
Studio: Universal Studios
Rating: PG-13

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