Flex Is Kings: Tribeca Review
Deidre Schoo and Michael Beach Nichols' Brooklyn-set doc explores a style of breakdancing-like street performance.
NEW YORK — Unheralded corners of Brooklyn prove to nurture an innovative dance scene in Deidre Schoo and Michael Beach Nichols' Flex is Kings, a lively and likeable doc that's a calmer, more modest East Coast cousin of David LaChapelle's L.A.-set Rize. Prioritizing three characters over an encyclopedic assessment of "flex" dancing, the film entertains even if it doesn't convince outsiders that what they're seeing is a new genre; it should be embraced at fests and by viewers seeking the cutting edge in body-moving styles.
Flexing looks to the untrained eye like a flavor of breakdancing, and saying that it's not breakdancing is about as close as anyone here gets to defining it in words. (The curious must go to Wikipedia to learn of its relation to Jamaica-born styles.) Fluidity seems a big part of the distinction -- not popping and locking but flowing, sometimes as if the torso were dragging the limbs around instead of vice-versa. Bits of mimed narrative can play a part, as can "punchlines" -- again, no one explains the term, but it seems to describe gags built around an unexpected prop: Say, when Flizzo, a burly, bearded champ, punctuates a sequence of steps by opening his mouth and letting a small bird fly out of it.
Frightening contortions are commonplace here -- exhibitions of what seems to be not just double-, but triple- and quadruple-jointedness. (If your back ached watching Joaquin Phoenix in The Master, you may want to close your eyes.) But the real risky behavior comes from Jay Donn, who was trying to find his place on the scene when he asked himself, "how 'bout doin' something dareful, like a daredevil?" The result, like a casual stumble-flip off a balcony to the dance floor, is thrilling without playing like a stunt done for its own sake.
(Donn, whose personality and wardrobe demands the adjective "colorful," knows how to make an entrance: At Friday night's screening, he entered the auditorium long after the film started, wearing a suit covered with mirror-ball tiles and squiggly-colored lights. He was seated in the front-left corner, where he blinked brightly throughout the film.)
While dancers Flizzo and Donn occupy most of the filmmakers' attention, with as much time devoted to personal lives and career possibilities as to performance, we also meet the clean-cut Reem, an entrepreneur whose Battlefest event series offers dozens of flex dancers a chance to compete. We watch Reem and colleagues in "let's put on a show!" montages, hauling sodas and cooking concession items at home, and see as venue owners get last-minute jitters about the kind of excitable crowds that attend these competitions.
Footage from Battlefest underlines the huge number of dancers and styles comprising the flexing world, and viewers will wish the excellently photographed doc would linger longer on individual performances. Even with the protagonists, the film often cuts away in what seems to be the middle of a routine. Its editorial agenda isn't always clear: We follow Donn as a surprise collaboration with a modern dance troupe takes him to Edinburgh, see the left-behind Flizzo endure fights with his pregnant girlfriend, but these storylines aren't given much grounding. How do these two men fit into their scene? We briefly meet a quintet of FedEx-uniformed dancers on a subway platform, but to what extent is flex an on-the-street phenomenon, as opposed to one performed for cameras and paying audiences? Flex is Kings offers just enough to make us want more.
Production Company: Visit Films
Directors: Deidre Schoo, Michael Beach Nichols
Producers: Deidre Schoo, Michael Beach Nichols, Christopher K. Walker
Executive producers: Edwin Sherman, Taylor Gillespie
Directors of photography: Deidre Schoo, Michael Beach Nichols
Editor: Christopher K. Walker
Sales: Visit Films
No rating, 86 minutes