140 Character Movie Review – #140RVW
It’s been 30 years, but it took only 12 days & 175K for Spike to usher in the age of independent cinema. Edgy glimpse of what was to come…
Spoiler-free Movie Review of She’s Gotta Have It:
Shot as quickly as possible, with no money for retakes, much less reshoots, She’s Gotta Have It is one of the first truly successful independent movies of the 1980’s, paving the way for the entire indie cinema boom.
Spike Lee would soon become a household name, though recognition by the establishment would continue to elude him. (In 2015 he was finally given an honorary Academy Award, in no way making up for a career of Oscar snubs.)
From the very start, you can already see traces of the filmmaker Lee would become. The rhythm, the unique camera angles, the jump cut editing, the interposed still shots, the musical focus, the cutting dialogue – all of these are on display in She’s Gotta Have It.
The film stars a wonderfully unique film character: the self-assured, independent woman. Spike’s films haven’t always done right by women, which is puzzling as he has simultaneously written some particularly fine female characters. The lead of She’s Gotta Have It is a little of both.
Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns) is a captivating and strong young woman, who doesn’t seek or require the approval or support of man nor woman. She has a career, a gorgeous loft apartment, a secure self-image and a healthy sexual appetite. Not content with one lover, she maintains relationships with three men, all of whom she views as friends – not understanding why they feel like rivals.
The acting is great, particularly when you consider it is all performed in one take, since there wasn’t money to do more. The very existence of the film is an impressive achievement. (The film is a total family affair, with music by father Bill Lee and acting from sister Joie Lee.) Johns is perfectly cast, a true original voice for an original character. The supporting cast of her suitors is solid if filling archetypal roles. All of the roles are a bit underwritten, come to that.
The film takes on the broad structure of a documentary, with each character participating in on-screen interviews, interspersed with long scenes of traditional storytelling. The format works pretty well, even if it does suggest that this story is being taken a little more seriously than is strictly necessary.
The tagline for She’s Gotta Have It was “A seriously sexy comedy”. It’s that last word that doesn’t totally fit. There are funny moments in the film, to be sure, but I’d never classify it as a comedy. I suppose it sounds pompous to call it a drama, but really that’s what it is. In fact, the only real problem with the picture is a tone-deaf scene of violence at the end of the second act. It’s totally out of place and an acknowledged wrong step by Lee.
Even thought the film is a trim 88 minutes, it still feels a bit overlong. Many of the story beats are repetitive. It’s a minor complaint, though. The story provides a unique perspective on relationships, gender roles, societal views and a first look at some of the conflicts between African-Americans that would be explored so well in his subsequent pictures.
She’s Gotta Have It is a fine debut film. Like the visionary auteur at the helm, the film is a true original.
The Representation Test Score: A (13 pts!)
|Main Cast||Tracy Camilla Johns Nola Darling
Tommy Redmond Hicks Jamie Overstreet
John Canada Terrell (as John Terrell) Greer Childs
Spike Lee Mars Blackmon
|Release Date||Fri 08 Aug 1986 UTC|
|Plot||Story of a woman and her three lovers.|
|Tagline||A Seriously Sexy Comedy|