I Will Follow: Film Review

Well-observed African-American family drama is a little too low-key to have much impact.

Sensitively scripted by writer-directer Ava DuVernay, this drama about the grieving process rings true while avoiding the trap of succumbing to melodrama.

Documentary filmmaker Ava DuVernay's debut narrative feature I Will Follow is notable in that it portrays a world of black characters who are not involved in crime, hip-hop, or the Tyler Perry universe. This touching if insular drama about a woman grieving over the recent death of her aunt is well acted and incisively observed, although it's ultimately too low-key to have much dramatic impact.

It's the first theatrical release from the grassroots black film distribution network dubbed the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AAFRM0), which is opening in several cities Friday.

The film's central character is Maye (Salli Richardson-Whitfield), a Hollywood make-up artist who has spent the last year caring for and living with her dying aunt Amanda (Beverly Todd) in the latter's Topanga Canyon home. Amanda, who we see in flashbacks, is a formerly prominent session musician who has recently succumbed to the illness for which she refused treatment, so Maye is faced with the task of clearing out the house and disposing of her aunt's possessions.

Taking place over a single day in but one location, the film depicts Maye's encounters with a dozen or so visitors, including Amanda's estranged daughter Fran (Michole White); a resentful young cousin, Raven (Dijon Talton, of TV's Glee); and Maye's casual boyfriend Troy (Omari Hardwick), as well as various neighbors and workers.

DuVernay's leisurely paced screenplay allows time for various digressions, such as an impassioned debate between Maye and Raven over the comparative merits of Jay-Z vs. Nas and a casual encounter between Maye and a satellite television repairwoman.

But it's the long buried family conflicts and resentments that emerge through the grieving process that form the heart of the drama. Sensitively scripted and well acted by the performers, these often bitter exchanges have the ring of truth while avoiding the trap of succumbing to melodrama.

Opens: March 11 (AFFRM)
Production: Forward Movement, Kando Films
Cast: Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Omari Hardwick, Michole White, Dijon Talton, Blair Underwood, Beverly Todd
Director/screenwriter: Ava DuVernay
Producer: Molly Mayeux
Executive producer: Howard Barish
Director of photography: Miguel Bunster
Production designer: Jennifer Spence
Editor: Spencer Averick
Costume designer: Kate Mallor
Music: Kathryn Bostic
Rated PG-13, 83 min.