He Preached upon 'Breadth'
For much of its two hours and one minute, Red Hook Summer views like another predictable feel-good movie. And, Clarke Peters’ outstanding performance covering all angles notwithstanding, there is out-and-out sermonizing from the pulpit and elsewhere, the film waters down real housing project conditions and violence, tosses in a couple grainy and/or supersaturated-color sequences to impart authenticity, and twice forces in the director’s public love affair with the Knicks.
Then, in a trick-twist that for once hits home powerfully, Hazel’s (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) profession of conversion brings right on its heels a totally unexpected claim, shattering the anticipated dotted line to a wrap-up in a one-eighty reverse trajectory. Reflecting current headlines, the revelation and its root fifteen years before are treated sensitively and from an unusual side, with no finger-wagging righteousness.
The first in director/co-writer Spike Lee’s ongoing Brooklyn series since 1998 He Got Game, RHS promises the same obvious hammering home of its points, until Bishop Enoch Rouse (Peters), and those dearest to him, must publically confront his past and in the process come to terms with it.
Though softened with two reciprocal end-frames gestures, such seriousness is nowhere on the radar when Silas “Flik” Royale (Brooklynite Jules Brown) is brought from middle-class suburban Atlanta by mother Colleen (De’Adre Aziza) to meet and spend summer months with her father Enoch. Presiding over the small, fervent congregation of cash-strapped Lil’ Peace of Heaven Baptist Church, the bishop is firm about his grandson’s attending services, not eating junk food or looking at the world through a “box” iPad 2, and steering clear of Box’s (Nate Parker) housing project toughs.
The A View from the Bridge and On the Waterfront neighborhood is peopled by the quirky or straight: the church’s Sisters Sharon (Heather Alicia Simms) and wheelchaired Sweet (Kimberly Hébert-Gregory) and self-anointed investment wizard Deacon Zee (Thomas Jefferson Byrd), Jehovah’s Witness proselytizer Mother Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns), and take-out-pizza addict Mr. Mookie (Lee).
Not always “easy on the grape,” Zee remarks on death in various guises in this waterfront section, a thumbnail history of which figures in one of the bishop’s sermons. A widower eyed by more than one of his parishioner ladies, notably Sister Sharon, he awaits his recalcitrant grandson’s stepping forward to testify to the spirit of conversion.
Wolfing down potato chips in the church pantry, unhappy Flik is spied by Chazz Morningstar (fellow Brooklynite Toni Lysaith), Sharon’s asthmatic only surviving daughter. Their taunting enmity-become-friendship that develops is neither cinema-unusual nor especially well done. Pranks such as leaving sneaker prints and twice writing in a white’s fresh cement are more for show than convincing, as is also the girl’s adopted adolescent weltschmerz act, out of character given her unquestioned religious convictions.
The teens’ bonding is affirmed in an Upper Bay kayaking outing during which grandfather Enoch and mother Sharon chitchat ashore and, filling in past time spans, he indicates that he needs still more time to feel comfortable. (On a couch, Sharon will later sermonize about coping with life’s path in past and present.)
Everything lengthens the straight line that points to an expected ending within grasp when Flik sings along and claps on a call-and-response and appears certain to be next to step forward to testify. Such a sudden turn that it looks like another film or an inspiration only later and apart from the original conception, the complicating revelation is nevertheless not overplayed, and its consequences as well are realistic and less trite than what has gone before.
There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.
Forced to act, Enoch displays a breadth of agonized soul, and, while others’ reactions are mixed, Flip takes it in, matures, and learns a new set of true values.
(Released by Variance Films and rated "R" by MPAA.)