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June 12, 2004

[AFF] Everyday People

I attended last night's screening of Jim McKay's latest film, Everyday People, at the opening night of the Atlanta Film Festival. The film itself focuses on a Brooklyn family restaurant, Raskin's, that will soon be closing after being sold to developers who plan to replace it with condos and chain stores, and the action basically takes place over the course of a single day, primarily within the walls of the diner itself.

We learned after the film (during a Q&A session) that executive producer Nelson George originally developed the idea for the film by soliciting stories about racial tension on the web. George commented that they received hundreds of stories and found that most of them (around 70%) dealt with racial tensions in the workplace. George then recruited McKay, and they began the process of building a set of stories around the larger narrative of the restaurant. Many of these stories actually grew out of the workshops with the actors before the script had been written. Sydnee Stewart, for example, is a Brooklyn poet and spoken word artist, and the filmmakers were able to incorporate her story into the film's script, with her character Erin determined to become a professional poet while her mom, a beleaguered employee of the company that plans to buy Raskin's, is desperate for her to go to college.

The film itself was pretty compelling. McKay deftly weaves between several plotlines, effectively using an ensemble cast of primarily unknown actors (McKay himself commented on this decision, noting that he felt using familiar actors would disrupt the world he was trying to create), allowing the different plotlines to comment on each other without being too obvious. The dialogue-heavy film allows McKay to introduce several of the major debates around the "gentrification" process that many neighborhoods face, and while the film deosn't resolve these questions (the lack of narrative closure is almost overdone), it's pretty effective in raising them. In this sense, I think Elvis Mitchell of the New York Times gets it right: "Mr. McKay's integrity is sometimes a weakness; he's determined to maintain a balance, strike a theatrical democracy." Like Mitchell, I would have liked to see more of the street vendor, Akbar, who tended to challenge some of the easier narratives about race and social class, but despite these absences, Everyday People is a worthy film, one that could only be made with the indie sensibility that McKay brings to it.

Update: Eugene Hernandez of indieWIRE, previews the AFF and includes a link to Bob Longino's AJC article, where Longino ranks the top 25 films of the festival.

Posted by chuck at June 12, 2004 12:28 PM

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As a side note, I don't think Bob Longino is a very good movie reviewer. If you're ever feeling nauseous and want to induce vomiting to make it go away quicker, do a search and find his review of Bad Boys 2. Then find and read Ebert's just to contrast the two.

Posted by: Rusty at June 12, 2004 2:40 PM

With a "tease" like that, how could I not look it up? I remember reading that review and wondered if Longino and Ebert had seen the same film. Then I wondered just how much Michael Bay had bribed Longino for that review....

I enjoy Ebert's "righteous indignation" reviews, when he slams moviemakers for putting out lazy, unispired films. If you can find his review of the Sly Stallone-Estelle Getty buddy-pic, "Stop or My Mom Will Shoot," it's absolutely hilarious. If I remember correctly, he called the film a "waste of celluloid," which might have been one of the kindest things he said about the film.

Posted by: chuck at June 12, 2004 2:58 PM

Frankly, he's at his best with the "righteous indignation" interviews. For that matter, most film critics seem to be.

Ebert's biggest weak spot (some would call it a strength) is sometimes he will write reviews just for the sake of saying something no one else is saying. The example coming to my mind is his review of Gigli, which was the only review I read making positive remarks about the film. Maybe I'm not qualified to say anything since I've never seen the film, but it makes me wonder how dozens of film critics and the two or three of my friends who saw the movie out of morbid curiosity could be wrong. Mind you, I understand how damaging the tyranny of majority opinion can be to a film's reputation, but that instance struck me as originality for the sake of originality. It's sort of annoying because I'll never know unless I see the film, but I really have no desire to.

Posted by: Rusty at June 13, 2004 8:56 AM

I think you're right. I'd like to see more openly negative reviews of bad films. Like you, I wondered about Ebert's contrarian review of Gigli. The guys at Movies Worth Seeing said it wasn't nearly as bad as most of the critics suggested. I'd imagine the film's reputation did suffer from Bennifer burnout. I appreciate the effort to recuperate unpopular films, but he should probably foreground that in his review, acknowledge that he's responding to the negative hype.

Posted by: chuck at June 13, 2004 11:44 AM

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