Brown Sugar (2002) / Romance-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual content and language
Running Time: 109 min.
Cast: Taye Diggs, Sanaa Lathan, Mos Def, Nicole Ari Parker, Boris Kodjoe, Queen Latifah
Director: Rick Famuyima
Screenplay: Michael Elliot, Rick Famuyima
Review published June 4, 2004
Sanaa Lathan (Out of Time, Life) stars as Syd, a writer for the Los Angeles Times who relocates to her old stomping grounds of New York City to work for XXL, one of the premier hip-hop magazines. While there she rekindles an old friendship with Dre (Diggs, Equilibrium), best friends since childhood, and an exec for a leading hip-hop record label. They discover an attraction for one another, but the situation is awkward, as Dre is soon to be married. More complications arise when Syd begins going out with a pro basketball player, and Dre must deal with selling out his love of hip-hop to promote acts strictly for commercial gain.
Some have referred to Brown Sugar as the hip-hop When Harry Met Sally, and just the visual aspects alone should remind you of the 1989 classic romantic comedy, not to mention the storyline involving friends who try desperately to remain just friends although their tendency is to be something more. However, it's just a little different this time around, with an all African American cast that showcases positive images -- no thugs, no drugs, no crass humor. Just like the underground hip hop that is showcased throughout the movie, this is a film all about bringing the love, the joy and the unlimited potentials of of what is true and right, and not the gangsta rap and hardcore messages that degrade and prejudice.
I admire Brown Sugar for making a truly earnest attempt at being an uplifting film, and a breath of fresh air among the bad comedies and thug life glamorization that Hollywood usually aims at African American audiences. The only real problem here is that director/co-writer Famuyima (The Wood, Talk to Me) takes every good idea and overcooks it. The tribute to hip hopís golden era is very nicely done, and shows great respect to some of the industryís finest old school and contemporary artists. As much as I love hip hop, even this aspect suffered from overkill, awkwardly introduced too many times in convoluted ways.
Instead of furthering the plot, the constant references become a distraction, with two different movies were being played out that only relate to each other in the most tangential of ways, although the creators try so hard to make them marry at all costs. The decidedly affluent, upscale clothing and furnishings are also a nice touch, but so excessive as to feel artificial. There isnít a sense of personality to any of the apartments or offices, and when trying to inject honest characterizations amid the most superficial of scenery, hollowness results.
As a romance, Brown Sugar scores most of its points from the nice acting job from the crew, as well as good dialogue that never seems too far from reality. In fact, if you strip out all of the hip hop homages, as terrific as they might be, as well as give the characters realistic living conditions and wardrobe, a pretty good romantic comedy would have sprung forth. Alas, Famuyima has an agenda here, an honorable one to be sure, but has chosen the wrong vehicle to set these statements in motion. Watch this one for a nicely written and interesting romance only enjoyable as long as you can see it through all of the crowded window dressing.
©2004 Vince Leo