Newlyweeds: Sundance Review
Sundance Film Festival, NEXT
Amari Cheatom, Trae Harris, Tone Tank, Colman Domingo, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Adrian Martinez
Shaka King’s debut feature co-stars Amari Cheatom and Trae Harris.
PARK CITY – Although Newlyweeds is billed as a “romance,” it’s pretty clear that the protagonists’ primary relationships are with their prodigious pot addictions. When characters are so consistently desperate to get high, their antics become more alarming than charming. Phase 4 Films acquired all North American rights to the feature at Sundance and plans a day and date theatrical-VOD release this summer.
Recently coupled Brooklynites Lyle (Amari Cheatom) and Nina (Trae Harris) are pretty much total potheads, spending their free moments consuming cannabis in most of its available forms. From wake 'n' bake to baking shake, they’re always up for getting high. For Lyle, there’s never an inopportune time to light up -- whether it’s in bed with Nina or on the job as a repo man for a sleazy rent-to-own furniture and appliance company, he always seems to have a blunt rolled and ready. That’s all good with Nina – a perennially broke world traveler who works part time as a kids’ museum guide -- as long as her live-in boyfriend is the one buying the weed, which is his principal discretionary expense.
Nina’s inadvisable decision to hang out with her 420-friendly boss and smoke up all of Lyle’s stash is just the first sign that things are headed for a change. The couple’s scattershot decision-making lands them both in jail in separate but equally avoidable incidents, forcing Nina to move back to her parents' place to dodge serious jail time and take out a restraining order against Lyle, whose escalating drug abuse has become a serious handicap.
Writer-director Shaka King clearly knows this world, perhaps too well, but making pot use, or denial, the focus of nearly every scene becomes tedious. Sustaining interest in the couple’s relationship remains the primary challenge, since watching people get high is hardly very absorbing, with the possible exception of Lyle’s stoned fantasy imagining himself and his coworker as badass gangsters in an amusing blaxploitation sequence titled “Two Tough Guys,” replete with bass-heavy soundtrack and soulful theme song.
Making their feature debuts, Cheatom and Harris are only infrequently convincing as a couple, their characters otherwise beset with conflicting goals and divergent backgrounds. Although delivering authentically inflected dialogue, neither seems particularly challenged by their slacker roles, which don’t appear to necessitate a great deal of dramatic investment. King lenses the proceedings in a functional fashion that doesn’t require much more than an adequate command of style. Other tech credits are serviceable but rarely notable.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival, NEXT
Production companies: 10th Hole Productions, TIN or W Productions
Cast: Amari Cheatom, Trae Harris, Tone Tank, Colman Domingo, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Adrian Martinez
Director-writer: Shaka King
Producers: Jim Wareck, Michael Matthews, Shaka King, Gbenga Akinnagbe
Executive Producers: Andy Sawyer, Neil Katz
Director of photography: Daniel Patterson
Production designers: Kevin Kedroe, Yvette Granata
Costume designer: Charlese A. Jones
Music: Scott Thorough
Editor: Kristan Sprague
No rating, 87 minutes