BFI Flare 2015: Blackbird

London LGBT Film Festival 2015

"Randy, a young black man, is wrestling unsuccessfully with his burgeoning sexuality. A member of his church choir, he has a tight cohort of school friends who seem more aware than he is of his sexuality. Meanwhile, at home Randy has to contend with his deeply religious mother, grief-stricken since his sister was mysteriously abducted. An unexpected encounter with a young actor and filmmaker changes things for Randy."

Blackbird arrives bearing a heavy load of expectation. Not only is it based upon the much-loved novel of the same name by Larry Duplechan (who went on to write not one but four sequels), it also follows director Patrik-Ian Polk's The Skinny, which has accrued a devoted fan base (and which I've warmed to in recent years since seeing it in 2012). And, as those of us who frequent gay film festivals know all too well, Blackbird is that most rare of beasts: a film about black gay men.

So how does it hold up? Pretty well, it turns out. This big-hearted picture has laughter, tears, sex and singing in equal measure. Blackbird is blessed with a talented, likeable cast. Newcomer Julian Walker is a joy as Randy, and Noah's Arc: Jumping The Broom veteran Gary LeRoi Gray gets the best lines as wisecracking Efrem. Star turns Mo'Nique and Isaiah Washington both acquit themselves admirably.

That isn't to say Blackbird is without its flaws. It feels a little like there's too many ideas in play in this film adaptation, and not enough time (or, perhaps, interest) in developing all of them. Polk would have done better to stick more closely to the source material (indeed, many of the less positive reviews of the film focus on where it strays from the novel). Efrem is particularly poorly served in this respect, his storyline left dangling. I'd have preferred to spend more time with him than on Crystal's pregnancy. And there's a huge lapse with an ill-judged rape gag - surprising, given that Polk featured a harrowing male rape in The Skinny. Rape jokes might get a big laugh, but that doesn't make them okay.

However, Blackbird is, for the most part, a warm, funny, sexy film, and it deserves every success. If you want to find out what happens next to "Randy" (the book's Johnnie Ray has been renamed here), then you only have to read Blackbird's sequel, Eight Days A Week. Randy has a long road ahead of him, but you won't regret going on it with him for a second.

Next: Tiger Orange.

Read last year's reviews.


Larry Duplechan said...

Please note, that many of the "too many ideas in play" are not from my novel. I'm just saying ...

KAOS said...

I know Larry, I read every book! I'll try make it clearer that it's the script I'm referring to, not the source material. Btw, did you read the review at Cypher Avenue? Ouch!

Larry Duplechan said...

I wasn't in any way asking for a re-write - the fact that certain people didn't seem to think I'd written enough story, has been itching my ass like a hemorrhoid for a solid year.

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