4:22 pm Aug. 10, 2012
Red Hook Summer, a spiritual sequel to Do the Right Thing, is a very good Spike Lee movie.
Here, he once again expands the relatively neat dialectical discussion of race and religion in Brooklyn and turns the film's story into a sprawling portrait of life there.
It is a Spike Lee movie in those other respects too, though: Some of the performances and dialogue are brittle, and the plot and pacing are idiosyncratically free-form in that way that drives Lee's detractors up a wall. As a work, it is undisciplined and unfettered.
But if you don't mind the many tangental subplots, wild tonal shifts and declamatory speeches about the changing world the protagonist grew up in (think of it as a massive David Simon drama but without all of the narrative discipline), Red Hook Summer may turn out to be your favorite film of the year.
The key character in Red Hook Summer is Flik (Jules Brown in his debut role), a sullen teenage out-of-towner sent by his single mother to spend the summer with his eccentric black sheep of an uncle, Da Good Bishop Enoch Rouse (Clarke Peters of "The Wire" and "Treme").
Like Ossie Davis's Good Reverend Doctor Purify character from Jungle Fever, Enoch is the face of declining faith in his inexorably gentrifying community.
For instance, while Enoch infrequently sees and interacts with members of a secular community outreach program (conspicuously run by young, peppy white people), he maintains that the key to revitalizing his community is gathering everyone at the barely solvent church he attends.
Here's where Flik comes in: He's totally new to the area, making him the perfect receptacle for all of the details and information that the Red Hook residents unknowingly give him. He's the stranger bearing good tidings, the one who puts everything into perspective.
Flick indiscriminately films everything and everyone he sees in Red Hook on his iPad, including a couple of characters that have been there since the not-so long ago events of Do the Right Thing.
But despite the fact that characters like Mr. Mookie (Lee) are still hanging on, Red Hook Summer isn't a sequel in the traditional sense. Do the Right Thing was about a neighborhood's near-implosion; Red Hook Summer's scope is much more expansive, with lessons that are meant to be universal. The characters have become aware of their interdependence. Lee's portrayal of them is no longer about turf or singular factions, but about their recognized need to band together in order to keep evolving.
All is not light and air, of course; one scene is so jarringly dark that it threatens to drag the rest of the film down. So as to keep this review spoiler-free, all I'll say is that it is a scene where Enoch's past comes back to haunt him—a flashback to a traumatic event, with disturbing implications.
Lee tries so hard to impress upon viewers the tawdry, viscerally disturbing nature of this scene that it feels like a cheap outtake from American Horror Story.
But Lee's insistence on showing both sides of every social ill or character-defining dilemma is also what makes his movies so satisfying. His latest combines a multitude of jagged, singular parts into something outstanding.