Big Words: Film Review

"Big Words"
Featuring excellent performances and incisive characterizations, this mature, low-key effort deserves wider exposure.

Neil Drummings' debut feature centers on the emotionally charged reunion of the former members of an aspiring hip-hop group.

Neil Drummings' modest but accomplished debut features the emotion-wracked reunion of the former members of a ‘90s-era hip-hop group that never hit the big time. Marked by incisive characterizations and fine performances, Big Words is aptly titled, referring not only to the name of one of its lead characters but also to the torrent of dialogue driving its skimpy but evocative narrative. The film, which received its premiere at this year’s Slamdance festival, is opening in a limited theatrical release that likely will be hampered by its lack of commercial elements.

Set in Brooklyn in 2008 on the eve of Obama’s election -- fortunately, the symbolic elements of the event, while certainly referenced, are not hammered home -- the story revolves around the three former musical colleagues in DLP, a group that once aspired to De La Soul-level stardom. They now have taken wildly divergent paths: John (Dorian Missick), aka Big Words, is an unemployed IT guy who spends his days hanging out in strip clubs: James (Gbenga Akinnagbe), aka Jaybee Da Mac, has shed his former thug persona and has come out of the closet, working as a book publicist and living with his boyfriend; and Terry (Darien Sills-Evans), aka DJ Malik, still hopes for stardom but toils as a DJ at local gigs. His bitterness becomes evident when he hears a new hit single that samples a beat he recorded years earlier.

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The three men reunite when James and Terry unexpectedly show up at an election party in James’ apartment. Years of feelings and resentments rise to the surface as they hash out the issues of their past.

Even more resonant is a subplot involving John’s burgeoning relationship with Annie (Yaya Alafia), a stripper and aspiring singer whom he meets on the street when she’s eyeing an expensive microphone in a store window. As the two tentatively begin a romance, he once again becomes inspired to create fresh rhymes. These beautifully written scenes, enlivened by wonderfully sensitive turns by the performers, are the highlights of the film.

Dealing with mature themes in a thoughtful manner, this low-budget feature overcomes its technical limitations to become an all-too-rare example of a film geared to African-American audiences that refuses to pander.  

Opens Friday, July 19 (African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement)

Production: Big Words, Edgefield County Pictures, Twice Told Films

Cast: Dorian Missick, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Darien Sills-Evans, Yaya Alafia, Zachary Booth, Jan Grae, Amir Arison

Director-writer: Neil Drumming

Producer: Matthew Keene Smith

Executive producer: Anthony Scaramucci

Director of photography: Cliff Charles

Editor: Keith Overton

Production designer: Sara K. White

Costume designer: Eniola Dawodu

Composer: Steven Cohen

Not rated, 94 minutes