Red Hook Summer– Movie Review
I think there’s a good movie somewhere in Spike Lee‘s Red Hook Summer. But it’s not the story of race and growing up in the projects that he tried to make. Lee’s return to his roots falls flat, sometimes looking outright amateurish.
Summer follows adolescent Flik (Jules Brown) as he his forced from his upwardly mobile Atlanta home for a few months (for reasons never made clear), and sent to the preacher grandfather (Clarke Peters) he has never known in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The grandfather, Bishop Enoch, spends lots of time worrying about Flik and telling him he needs Jesus (even though Flik seems like a pretty solid young man already). Flik befriends local girl Chazz (Toni Lysaith). Meanwhile, Enoch’s church struggles financially- and then a stranger arrives and uncovers a painful secret from the Bishop’s past.
I hate criticizing child actors, but auteur directors (Spike Jonze, Wes Anderson, Beit Zeitlin) keep forcing them to carry entire films in roles they aren’t ready for. Mr. Lee might be the worst offender yet, writing dialogue that is the epitomy of preachy, disjointed, and forced, and is desperate to capture how the kids these days talk (“Grandpa is weirder than Cee Lo Green!”). He then guides his two young leads to performances that are completely flat and stagey. A supposed-to-be-heated scene about hope, despair, life, and death along the Red Hook waterfront was almost unwatchable.
However, Mr. Lee shines when telling the story of a small church struggling to survive, and the damaged people that inhabit it. Peters thunders when delivering sermons, and is heartbreaking when his secrets come out. During the church scenes, the camera flys and zooms around the small sanctuary as if watching from on high, and the music is inspired. Thomas Jefferson Byrd steals scenes with as an ranting alcoholic prophet of a deacon; and Colman Domingo uses a single extreme close-up to deliver an unflinching and intense performance as the stranger.
But at about two hours, the bad stuff far outweighs the good. Bless Mr. Lee for setting such ambitious targets, but it didn’t pay off.
Did you see Red Hook Summer? What did you think?