BLINDSPOTTING follows BLACK PANTHER and SORRY TO BOTHER YOU to complete 2018’s Oakland cinema trilogy. The home of Too Short, MC Hammer and Digital Underground has been making big moves on screen this year with these three unrelated groups of artists. This is the one written by and starring two life long friends and spoken word/poet/rapper type guys, Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs, who (among other things) were in a group called The Getback together.

Diggs and Casal play Collin and Miles, best friends and life long Oakland residents. Collin has recently been released after an at-first-not-specified felony. The days left on his probation are used as a countdown and we watch in constant dread of some dumb thing putting him back in. The problem is perfectly illustrated in the early scene where he’s in the back seat of a friend’s car and Miles, riding shotgun, finds an actual gun between the seats and thinks it’s funny to start waving it around. Collin wants no part of it and wants out but it’s a two-seater and they ignore his pleas. He should be furious but he has a bleak sense of humor about it because Miles is as funny and charming as he is a total fuckin dumbass. But he’s kind of the Bishop in JUICE of this movie, the ticking time bomb of bad influence. And I’m sure he would take that as a compliment.

There’s a theme of gentrification. The two are constantly suspicious of “New Oakland” and white tech people and so-called hipsters who have moved there from Portland and elsewhere. There’s a funny-that-turns-disturbing incident where Miles, being white, is mistaken for one of these transplants. He’s much more militant about it than Collin because his identity is so wrapped up in Oakland being tough and him being worthy of it. And Collin is also trying to turn his life around, so he’s much more open to trying vegan burgers and expensive kale juice.

If you ever saw the trailer you know that Collin witnesses a police shooting. Surprisingly, the movie deals with this topic passionately without turning into a heavy melodrama or a thriller about the cops coming after him or any of the things the marketing made me imagine. It’s more like a poetic illustration of the fear and helplessness caused by knowing the system and many of the people in it don’t consider you life to be worth much. Collin’s activist mom (Margo Hall, two episodes of Nash Bridges) makes pamphlets full of safety tips for how to not get shot by cops. Kind of like when you’re camping and you read about what to do if you see a bear. But these are bears that you see pretty much every day if you leave the house.

I mean it’s about that, but overall I’d consider it a comedy. It reminded me a little bit of FRIDAY at times. Funny neighborhood and character stuff leading up to something a little more serious. These are low wage dudes, working for a moving company. Collin is stuck in the daily torture of trying to make a good impression on his ex-girlfriend Val (Janina Gavankar, PEE-WEE’S BIG HOLIDAY) at the front desk. Throughout the movie we piece together more about what got him into trouble and why they’re no longer together.

Collin tries to go on living his life and ignoring what he saw. Stepping forward and saying “I saw that cop shoot that guy, he was unarmed and running away” is just not an option for him right now. So he tries to not make a big deal about it, and masks it with gallows humor. He keeps saying he’s okay.

[STYLISTIC SPOILER] That his pent up feelings about this would eventually explode out in rhyme form was a big, weird surprise to me, but I went with it. I liked it. It makes it kind of like a musical.

But I think more than anything the movie is about this friendship. I heard Casal compare the duo to Calvin and Hobbes in an interview, and I later made the connection that the two had a series of Youtube videos where they re-enact some of those comic strips. But I guess adult Calvin is a more of a problem. Miles has a wife or girlfriend (Jasmine Cephas Jones, Hamilton) and kid (Ziggy Baitinger) who he seems pretty good and loving with, but the truth is he’s a bad person for Collin to be around, at least for the next few days. After all these years as best friends it’s inexcusable for Miles to even consider endangering Collin’s probation the way he keeps doing over and over again. The guy is fun to be around most of the time and I like that they stay friends the whole time, but it’s infuriating when he blows up about how hard it is to be a white person and constantly be having to prove he belongs here. Okay, sure, that does suck. Do you think it sucks as being the black guy who took the fall for the crime you did together, or who is much more likely to be shot by the cops for no reason, or by some other white person who has the wrong idea (which at one point seems like a looming possibility while they’re on the job)? I don’t think it does.

Producers Keith and Jess Calder (ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE, BATTLE FOR TERRA, BUNRAKU, YOU’RE NEXT) approached Casal through his Youtube channel and convinced him he could write a movie. But I think Diggs is better known now. I knew his name from the credits of The Get Down but it turns out he’s in the thankless role of the adult version of the main character seen on stage in the intros – dubbed by Nas.  So I guess his more notable role is as one of the original leads in Hamilton (playing Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette).

All the press for the movie that I’ve seen has focused on the writer/stars and barely mentioned the director, so I just want to note that rookie feature director Carlos Lopez Estrada did this samurai-themed Thundercat video:

Lopez also directed five videos for a weird Sub Pop rap group called clipping, having collaborated with one member, Jonathan Snipes, in film school. As you can see from this crazy video, Diggs is also in the group, so they’ve been working together for a while.

Though there are only a handful of flashy gimmicks in BLINDSPOTTING, it does make sense that it comes from a music video director. I really like his use of long takes with the camera panning smoothly on tracks. Cinematographer Robby Baumgartner previously shot THE GUEST and BLAIR WITCH (2016). His first feature film credit was as a best boy on the aforementioned JUICE.

I like BLINDSPOTTING’s unusual mix of tones and approaches, showcasing the unique personalities and talents of its writer/stars and their home town. If this is their one time expressing themselves through filmmaking, like Saul Williams in SLAM, I’m glad somebody thought to get them to do it. If it’s the beginning of a new path, I look forward to their next one.

P.S. This is like the third time since October that I’ve seen Ethan Embry (CAN’T HARDLY WAIT) in a movie and didn’t make the connection that it was him. (see also: DEVIL’S CANDY, FIRST MAN). See if you can do better. He’s pretty obvious but I guess you could say he’s in my blind spot.

This entry was posted on Monday, December 10th, 2018 at 8:07 am and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

19 Responses to “Blindspotting”

  1. I will always recognize the star of FREAKYLINKS.

    Good movie, good review. I enjoyed both.

  2. Love this review, love this movie, but Tisha Campbell-Martin plays the woman who runs the hair salon (named Mama Liz, which I assume is the confusion). Margo Hall plays Collin’s mom.

  3. Majestyk’s real-time reactions to this review:

    “Surprisingly, the movie deals with this topic passionately without turning into a heavy melodrama or a thriller about the cops coming after him or any of the things the marketing made me imagine.”

    Really? That’s cool. I’d imagined some performatively woke shit that people like because they agree with it, not because it’s entertaining.

    “I mean it’s about that, but overall I’d consider it a comedy. It reminded me a little bit of FRIDAY at times. Funny neighborhood and character stuff leading up to something a little more serious.”

    No shit? That sounds great. Hey, maybe this movie is up my alley after all…

    “[STYLISTIC SPOILER] That his pent up feelings about this would eventually explode out in rhyme form—”

    *record scratch* Oh shit, fuck that. I cannot even with these spoken word poet rapper whateverthefucks. That fuckin’ tortured coffeeshop cadence just kills me. Get a fuckin’ beat, you knobs, and learn how to flow over it. I especially cringe when I have to look at their faces while they do it. Cut it out, you guys. You’re ruining poetry, rapping, and speaking all at the same time with this shit.

    Since the odds of me ever seeing this have now become negligible, can someone tell me what in the living fuck the title means?

  4. I was going to recommend this movie to you Vern, but of course you saw it. I had the same reaction as you to the trailers, and I was pleasantly surprised by it. I loved the rap. For me, coming from the theater, it definitely felt like the rap was organic. Just as in a musical when the emotions become too much to express with just dialogue, they break into song and dance. This had that same feeling to me, the boiling over of feelings, too much to deal with, and the only way to let it out. Especially for Diggs character. Blindspotting=When there is more than one way to see a situation, and you only see one.

  5. Thanks, Ryan. Sorry for the harsh words. I’m glad people like it. I just have very intense opinions about rapping.

  6. Vern, make sure to seek out Joseph Kahn’s Bodied to complete 2018’s Oakland tetralogy. It pairs very well with Blindspotting.

  7. Great review, and great movie. As for the rap — if I had a review that mentioned the rhyming thing, I would have been skeptical too, but it works.

  8. I’m glad you agree Miles is unconscionable jeopardizing Collin like that. I always feel like I’m alone in these situations. I’ve never been on parole but I’ve been around idiots messing around for no good reason and when I object people always say lighten up.

    Am I the asshole for thinking there’s nothing to gain and everything to lose? Of course the Mileses of the world never understand how they’re the cause of their own problems. And the people who are aware of consequences are just assholes trying to hold them back.

    I just figured it was in Diggs’ contract he had to rap for the Hamilton fans. He also did that show The Mayor about the rapper who wins the election.

  9. Thanks for the correction, Tyler.

  10. I just watched this last night.

    Part of what’s so impressive here is the way the comedy isn’t used to dilute the drama. Life is just funny sometimes, and I wish more “serious” movies weren’t afraid that being hilarious was some type of genre-traitorism. There’s at least one moment where a scene has a funny framing and then transforms into the heaviest wince-inducing shit ever. This movie hits really hard in places.

  11. Oh, the scene at the party, right?

  12. That scene is pretty much the exact equivalent, but I meant the scene where he’s telling the fire backstory. These two goofy guys come in to set it up, and then it goes into the flashback and is just like Jesus Christ!, and when we come out of it those goofy guys aren’t even funny anymore.

  13. Oh yeah, that was good too.

  14. At some point filmmakers forgot how to use humor in serious movies. Think for example of THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 (original). That movie is damn funny (it even ends with a freeze frame on Matthau’s smirking face!), but still a a great, serious 70s thriller. Even THE GREAT ESCAPE always found the right time for funny dialogue and a few sprinkles of slapstick (The one guy falling through his bed, after parts of it were used for the tunnel) One of the reasons why I liked ARGO so much, was that it reminded me of that time, when even in the darkest political thriller was room for some comic relief, that someone felt like a natural part of the story.

  15. CJ, yeah, I feel that. I once sent a script to a producer and he replied that he wasn’t expecting it to be a comedy. I replied that it isn’t and the characters just say funny things because of who they are. The problem with genre is that it’s often looked at like a prison.

  16. Vern, no problem.

    Mr. Majestyk, you should definitely give it a chance. Slam poetry cadence isn’t something that comes to mind. It’s two characters that know how to rap sometimes fucking around and “ad-libbing” (within the film) a little riff or two, and then builds from there. I get the hesitation though.

    Palermo, for me the part that’s been the toughest sell trying to spread the good word around is that the subject matter sounds heavy. I try to tell them it’s actually really funny too, and one really invests in the characters (the latter being something the more popular and also funny but IMO weaker Sorry to Bother You is lacking in). It’s such an admirable tonal fluidity, and something, like you say, that makes it feel real.

  17. Tyler: I can also never be convinced that HAMILTON is not a Funny Or Die skit spoofing cornball educational performance troupes that go from school to school teaching kids about American history through the medium of rapping. (“I’m MC Prez and I’m a rapping whiz / Cuz I got a system of checks and balan-ces!”) I am clearly just not in agreement with the current thinking vis a vis the appropriate uses of MC skills.

    Also, I cheated and looked at a clip on YouTube. Yeah, man, I’m sorry, I just can’t do it. He’s looking right at the camera and, like, cry-rapping or something and I’m too mortified to get past the first two bars. it’s like that cringey monologue by the son in THE VVITCH crossed with Kanye’s embarrassing freestyle from THE ART OF RAP. I can’t even look at it.

  18. To be fair, that’s a clip from the very end of the movie. The film builds to that moment. And I really don’t think it’s anything like Hamilton, even though I like Hamilton.

    That said, I can’t make you change your mind. Personally, I think it’s the best movie of 2018.

  19. I watched this for the second time last week, and it holds up great. It’s in my top 5 for the year with Black Panther, The Favourite, The Death of Stalin, and one more movie. Maybe Roma or Beale Street.

    I also tried to rewatch BlackkKlansman, but Lee’s sledgehammer style just ruins the fascinating story for me. Blindspotting is highly stylized, but in a way that effectively complements the storytelling.

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