Monday, January 22, 2018

Sundance with Abe: Blindspotting

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the fifth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

Directed by Carlos López Estrada
U.S. Dramatic Competition

It’s not easy to understand a place from the outside. Those who have grown up in or lived in a specific city or town for most of their lives have a special insight into what it means to be from there, and how that comes to define who you are. That experience is further contributed to by the company one keeps or the color of their skin, and the way in which they believe they are seen. Two people growing up in the same neighborhood are likely to have some things in common, and watching it change around them is guaranteed to be a difficult process that requires much adjustment.

Collin (Daveed Diggs) is released from prison and returns to his hometown of Oakland, California. Three days from the end of his one-year probation period, Collin is startled by the sight of a white police officer shooting a seemingly unarmed black man right in front of him. Desperate to turn his life around and rekindle his relationship with his ex-girlfriend Val (Janina Gavankar), Collin tries to focus on his job as a mover with his lifelong best friend and smooth troublemaker Miles (Rafael Casal) in spite of the rapid gentrification that they see happening all around them.

Diggs, who co-wrote this film, is best known for his Tony-winning performance in “Hamilton” in which he raps as Thomas Jefferson. Here, he uses some of that rhythmic talent and plugs it in to his own experience as an Oakland native. Casal, a true find, is white but has a similar background, and the two are a tremendous duo on screen, telling a story that feels personal in roles that feel lived-in. Gavankar is a good fit as well, and the cast is rounded out by the exceptional Jasmine Cephas Jones, who plays Ashley, Miles’ African-American wife.

It’s almost impossible to describe the tone of this film since it changes so rapidly throughout. There are moments that are deadly serious and others that are completely hilarious, and Diggs and Casal flow effortlessly between genres to make every scene compelling and energizing. There is so much style to be found in this film, which is described on IMDB as “a buddy comedy in a world that won’t let it be one.” This film has a lot to say about the state of race and identity in America and about gentrification and what it does to a community, and it’s a tremendous ride the whole way.


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