'Blackbird': Film Review
Patrik-Ian Polk's coming-of-age tale concerns a young Southern choir boy struggling with his sexuality
A gay coming of age tale that awkwardly mixes melodrama with a near fairy tale-level of sweetness, Patrik-Ian Polk's Blackbird never manages to sustain a consistent tone, or, for that matter, believability. Although this film adapted from Larry Duplechan's 1986 novel is certainly well intentioned and may prove inspirational for young men struggling to come to terms with their sexuality, it's far too disjointed to have the necessary dramatic impact.
Set in a small Mississippi town, the story centers on sweet, 17-year-old choir boy Randy (an appealing Julian Walker), who in the opening moments is seen engaging in a torrid make-out session with a fellow male singer in front of the horrified congregation. Surprise!—it's just a dream, one of many for the sexually repressed Randy that results in him having to frequently wash his sheets.
Desperately praying to Jesus to put him on the literally straight path, Randy has other problems as well. His parents have split up as a result of the mysterious disappearance years earlier of Randy's younger sister, with his somewhat unhinged mother Claire (Oscar winner Mo'Nique) spending much of her time slapping "Missing" stickers on milk cartons at the local supermarket.
Fortunately for him, Randy's sexuality is warmly embraced by his friends Efrem (Gary L. Gray) and Crystal (Nikki Jane), as well as by his loving and tolerant father. That the latter is played by Isaiah Washington, who garnered notoriety for his use of a gay slur on the set of the television series Grey's Anatomy, adds a distracting subtext.
Though the Christian school Randy attends rejects his suggestion of putting on a production of Jesus Christ Superstar—"It's a little rich for our small-town blood"—he somehow manages to land a lead role in a gay-themed production of Romeo and Juliet opposite the hunky jock Todd (Torrey Laamar) on whom he has a hopeless crush.
Randy also finds happiness in the form of the slightly older, openly gay aspiring filmmaker Marshall (Kevin Allessee), who casts him in his new student film. They're soon involved in a passionate relationship, beginning with a date on "Booty Hill." Unfortunately, his mother spies them making out in a car, with the character played by Mo'Nique getting all Precious on them by smashing the window with a baseball bat and claiming that her daughter's disappearance is God's way of punishing the family for Randy's deviance.
Featuring such other plot elements as sexually transmitted disease, an unwanted pregnancy, and the effort of a local priest to exorcise Randy's homosexuality, the film is a stylistic and narrative muddle. With its equal doses of musical numbers and titillation, such as when a shirtless Todd interrupts Randy and Marshall during a romantic clinch and asks, "Is this a gay party or can a dirty straight boy join in?" (yet another dream sequence), Blackbird can't seem to make up its mind whether it's aiming for camp or an enlightened Afterschool Special.
Production: KBiz Entertainment, Tall Skinny Black Boy Productions
Cast: Mo'Nique, Julian Walker, Isaiah Washington, Terrell Tilford, D. Woods, Torrey Laamar, Gary L. Gray, Kevin Allesee, Nikki Jane
Director: Patrik-Ian Polk
Screenwriters: Patrik-Ian Polk, Rikki Beadle Blair
Producers: Keith Brown, Patrik-Ian Polk, Carol Ann Shine, Isaiah Washington
Executive producers: Sidney Hicks, Mo'Nique Hicks
Director of photography: Eun-ah Lee
Production designer: Candi Guterrres
Editor: Bryan Colvin
Costume designer: Jennifer Schreck
Casting: Matthew Morgan
Rated R, 99 min.