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DVD review: 'Crooklyn'

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Spike Lee was one of the most controversial and biggest directors of the 80's and 90's. His work offered a perspective on inner-city life that hadn't been represented up until that point.

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Right on the heels of his pinnacle, he released a film called 'Crooklyn' that inspired mixed reactions from viewers. Why don't we explore it to see if this negativity was warranted?

It is somewhere in the 1970's. Troy (Zelda Harris) is a ten year old girl who is growing up in Brooklyn with her brothers Wendell (Sharif Rashed), Clinton (Carlton Williams), Nate (Chris Knowings) and Joseph (Tse-Mach Washington). Their mother Carolyn (Alfre Woodard) teaches school by day and does her best to raise five children and keep their house in order. Their father Woody (Delroy Lindo) is a musician who is trying to forge his own path, even though realizing his artistic vision doesn't put food on the table.

Through a combination of their strained finances, the natural rambunctiousness of children and their lively neighborhood, the family encounters and attempts to overcome many obstacles in their pursuit of happiness.

This is probably Lee's most sentimental film. It isn't especially racially-confrontational or seeming to attempt to make a large-scale commentary on society. Instead, it is a (mostly) fond look back at the 70s. The only thing that really orients the viewers as far as the time period is the television which broadcasts the sports heroes and entertainment of the day. Surely Lee absorbed a lot of that growing up.

Lee wrote this with his two sisters and it is supposedly semi-autobiographical. At first, it seems like one of those 'slice of life' films that gives us a peek at a day with the characters. That doesn't turn out to be the case. This takes place over the course of most of a summer, but the plot is still very loose. There are very few direct conflicts that must be addressed or overcome, besides the general marital/financial/peer/family strife that pops up. A more concrete central issue would have helped.

Late in the story, there is a major event that seems to come out of nowhere. It unceremoniously brings an end to the film and feels very anti-climactic. This comes on the heels of a plot move that separates Troy from her family. This detour is amusing though it temporarily changes the story’s dynamic.

In a rare turn of events, the children are all good actors. Harris does an especially good job as the center of the film. Both parents are good too, though Lindo feel fairly under-utilized. Woodard’s character has a lot on her plate, but she handles the drama ably. The cast and the closeness of the characters is one of the strong-suits of the story.

Special features include: nothing.

'Crooklyn' has a little bit of a bad rap when it comes to its place in Lee's filmography. True, it might be one of his less significant works, but he has certainly made films that are much worse and less watchable.

After seeing his landmark films, consider spinning by this neighborhood.

Rated PG-13 115 minutes 1994


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