Typically, naming your movie after an ’80s pop hit is a sure sign of artistic lethargy. (See Take Me Home Tonight, which was once even more lazily titled Kids in America.) The bare-bones indie I Will Follow uses this noxious trope in a touchingly personal way. The U2 fave, which Bono wrote about his dying mother, was a favorite of writer/director Ava DuVernay’s aunt, who died of cancer.
It’s no coincidence that in DuVernay’s debut feature it’s also a favorite of Amanda (Beverly Todd), a former session musician who also expired from cancer before the film’s main events begin. (She’s seen in flashbacks peppered throughout.) That leaves niece—and writer-director surrogate—Maye (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) to spend the film’s day-spanning length packing up her handsome and well-scouted Topanga Canyon manse and grieving, joined in succession by a baker’s dozen visitors. These range from Aunt Amanda’s daughter (Michole Briana White), who held a decidedly less esteemed view of her mother than Maye, to kindly neighbors to an old flame (Omari Hardwick), who may help abate Maye’s recent marriage problems (with Blair Underwood, in a glorified cameo).
I Will Follow is the first released under the auspices of the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, which seeks to lift black indies from the vagaries of the festival circuit and deposit them in mainstream theaters, thus allowing more African-Americans to see African-American films not made by Tyler Perry. Unapologetically stagebound and even more unapologetically personal, I Will Follow means better than it delivers, and can be clumsy. (A scene with Jonas Brothers-debating movers is labored, and that goes double for a “loose” scene where Maye talks Jay-Z diss tracks with a young relative played by Glee’s Dijon Talton.) And while a goopy score threatens to render ill anyone with the smallest trace of irony, the film as a whole has a hushed, gentle feel that communicates the film’s ideas better than any spoken words. More important, it presents a section of modern black life utterly missing from cinemas, one that in future films will hopefully rely less on intentions.
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