In Medicine for Melancholy, the "medicine" writer-director Barry Jenkins prescribes for Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and Jo (Tracey Heggins) involves a tender post-hookup romance and healthy discourse on the nuances of racial identity. Even though Jenkins completed his debut film last year, he captures the zeitgeist of the new Obama nation. The young, gifted and black lovers of Melancholy can see the fault lines of cultural fragmentation and are savvy enough to navigate them; they're at ease with technology and the public confessional of social networking sites.
Jenkins also infuses his Medicine with a dose of community activism, and this urban romance is a valentine to San Francisco, the one-time vibrant and sprawling haven for outsiders that he sees becoming a homogeneous gentrified museum. All this is done with a light touch and the feeling that these lives are being captured on the fly. With one clunky digression (a lengthy discussion of the impact of rent control on San Francisco's diversity), the camera's always on Cenac and Heggins, who are very comfortable in their own skin.
The same can't be said of Micah and Jo, who wake up together after a drunken one-night stand at a mutual friend's party. They don't even speak as they gather up their clothes. Not many more words are exchanged over a tense breakfast and long, long cab ride home. But Micah senses a connection, and when he finds her wallet on the taxi floor, he takes the initiative and decides to woo the reluctant Jo. What Micah doesn't realize is that he'll only have a day to spend with Jo, but in Jenkins's view, that may be enough.
As they visit the Museum of the African Diaspora and the waterfall and engraved panels of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Jenkins allows for lots of discussions about race and being a minority within the indie music and art subculture. But he never forgets the central relationship, and allows the romance to slowly bloom. Both Micah and Jo have carefully crafted their self-images, and it's only when they really cut loose — riding a carousel like gleeful children — that their defenses finally fall away.
Beautifully shot in varying degrees of saturation that makes the film look like it's wavering between black and white and color, Medicine turns an awkward morning after into a serendipitous love story that's as fleeting as it is precious.
Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit) at 7 and 9:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 13, at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 14, at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 15, at 9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Feb. 20-21, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22
Serena Donadoni writes about film and culture for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].