Is this supposed to be some kind of parody of the hysterical Christian morality plays of Tyler Perry, or some kind of running commentary/satirical take on them? Is there any way to come to Blackbird that doesn’t end in you walking away completely confounded by its flagrant and vulgar mishmash of tones and improbable storytelling?
I have no answers for these questions, and that’s why I’m asking.
Director Patrik-Ian Polk stated that he made the film because we needed more stories of gay men who weren’t white. He’s right, but what we don’t need are movies as Lifetime-esque as Blackbird. I found myself wondering if this was supposed to be taken as camp, but there’s alternately a lack of conviction and a bone-deep seriousness that kneed that theory at several points.
I mean, what else is one to make of a film where a character’s abducted sister is a mere background detail to his coming out journey? Not only does Mo’Nique’s unstable mother (she’s only as crazy as any given scene requires her to be) blame his homosexuality for her daughter’s disappearance, but when the abducted girl is returned after six years, Mo’Nique shrugs off his homosexuality and forgives it all. Just a few scenes prior she was ready to lay hands on the boy to cure him of his queerness.
Yet this still sidesteps the fact that this movie treats the abduction and return of his sister as a mere blip on its radar. It’s so staggeringly inept and offensive that it’s borderline impressive. Who thought this was a good idea? You know they’re going to eventually circle back to this point since it’s a drum beat, incredibly hard, throughout the film, but to toss it off in the last few minutes is astounding. That girl’s been through hell and back, and now she’s a mere prop for her brother’s self-discovery and journey of acceptance? That takes some serious stones.
Blackbird is all over the map, and it’s not helped by Julian Walker’s awkward central performance. A non-actor but one hell of a singer, Walker simply cannot handle the dramatic weight he’s been entrusted with. He’s alternately too mannered, too broad, or just plain too artificial to register as a confused teenager trying to understand and grapple with his blooming sexuality and religious upbringing. It doesn’t help that he’s surrounded by Mo’Nique, very good despite a character that never makes logical sense, Isaiah Washington as his distant father, and Kevin Allesee as his dreamy first boyfriend.
So I ask again, what the hell is going on in Blackbird? They can’t possibly mean for us to take this seriously, and yet they appear to expect just that. Parody, satire, elaborate commentary – someone’s going to have to explain just what they were trying to achieve here. I’m flabbergasted.