Mo’ Better is best

My first exposure to a Spike Lee joint came courtesy of my 11th grade US history class. Actually it wasn’t a class, it was an after school AP review session for all the cool kids who fancied themselves smart and edumacated (sic). The teacher who taught the session was very popular among a certain subset of intelligent social justice types, about half of whom now appear to be in Teach for America. (You did good Mr. D.)

Anyway, we watched Bamboozled, which is not–it’s safe to say– one of Lee’s finest moments. All of his worst tendencies are on display. His heavy-handedness. His lack of focus. Bad acting. (Lawd have mercy–Damon Wayans’s white voice!) It’s supposed to be a satire but the film is relentlessly humorless.

I judged Mr. Lee so hard after watching Bamboozled. It certainly didn’t help that it seemed like Lee was always taking something too far, like a bitter old uncle. But I guess it’s to his credit that I’ve always gotten an avuncular vibe from him. He cares about black people. He’s very earnest in that way.

The problem is sometimes that unbridled passion can make his films too absurd. Jungle Fever and She’s Gotta Have It, had that effect on me. Do the Right Thing I’ve tried and failed to finish. Malcolm X I’ll conquer when I have three solid hours to spare. (UPDATE: Conquered it. It’s up there.)

Mo’ Better Blues, though? Classic.  I’d hazard a guess that it’s probably Lee’s best feature film barring documentaries  I’ve yet to watch. Here Lee’s best tendencies, namely his deep love for black people, jazz music and Brooklyn come together in beautiful synchronicity.

Mo’ Better actually refers to doing the nasty, but you don’t need to know that. Bleek Gilliam, a talented trumpet player trying to move up on in the world, faces obstacles in the forms of his gambling-prone best friend Giant (Spike Lee) and two beautiful women, Indigo (Spike’s sister Joie) and Clarke  (Cynda Williams) respectively.

A word on Denzel:

Yes it is true that instruments and black men are a powerful, potent combination, instant sex. But even without the trumpet in his hands, Denzel is just whoa. My word. The full lips, the strong nose,  the slight overbite, the smile–it just all works! So hot! My my my.

Mo’ Better also has a lot of fun appearances from past and current pop culture trivia subjects. Look there’s that black guy who was in every ’90s movie ever. There’s Charlie Murphy, Eddie Murphy’s older brother. Look, Gus Firing! Oh hey it’s Bud from the Cosby Show! So fun.

Then you can also send a significant amount of time trying to decide if the Lee siblings are good actors or bad actors. They have the same lackluster delivery which makes me think it must be a family thing–the way they look so placid even when they’re supposed to be emotional.  It’s also interesting to see how the features that make Spike Lee so distinctive-bulbous eyes, long narrow nose, actually make Joie kind of stunning, and I totally dig her natural hair!

What makes Mo’ Better so good is its focus. Instead of trying to take on every thing that happened in 1990, Lee centers in on this one dude and his quotidian struggles–money problems, girl problems, existential-what-is-my-purpose-in-life problems–and it maps with the viewer. You start to wonder whether serious good-looking musicians really are douchebags, ‘wedded to their art’ and what would happen if you couldn’t sing or write anymore. And even though the ending is as hokey as heck, there’s a tenderness and a love throuhout the film, for the city, for the music, for the community, that just gets you.

And oh yes, the music. Crazy on point as always. Spike Lee’s dad is a professional jazz musician so it makes sense that his original score is dope. Favorite musical sequence of the film right here (unfortunately no image, just audio). Extremely sexy use of “All Blues.” It’s very lovely. Lee also has some nice camera work. The dual sex scenes with Clarke and Indigo are effective and for once not overbearing with all the quick cuts and direct-to-camera gimmicks  Lee is famous for.

The film is just really good, y’all. Really.

One Comment on “Mo’ Better is best”

  1. breonajai says:

    I loved this reading mostly because I am a huge fan of Spike Lee, I agree with most of the points you made but I think Miracle at St. Anna is his best film to date, but to each its own I guess.

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