I Will Follow
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, April 15, 2011
There’s smooth-jazz polish to the emotions, even the unpleasant ones, in “I Will Follow.” Played out over the course of a single day, as a young woman takes stock of things after the death of a beloved, cancer-stricken aunt, the movie goes down easy — too easy at times — with overly familiar rhythms and a honeyed gloss of cloying melodrama.
The story, by writer-director Ava DuVernay, centers on Maye (Salli Richardson-Whitfield), a Hollywood makeup artist who, for the past year, has given up everything to care for her dying aunt Amanda (Beverly Todd), a free-spirited recording-session musician who was, in some ways, Maye’s role model. After a brief prologue showing Amanda and Maye warmly interacting in flashback, the action jumps to moving day shortly after Amanda’s death, as Maye prepares to clear out of the Topanga Canyon house the two women shared, and to resume her old life in the fast lane.
Over the course of that day, a series of dramatically convenient visits and telephone calls occurs, introducing, among others, Amanda’s estranged daughter, Fran (Michole White), Maye’s estranged boyfriend, Evan (Blair Underwood), and a breast cancer survivor (Phalana Tiller) who has come to uninstall the satellite dish. The encounters precipitate several strained conversations and much earnest brow furrowing on the theme of recrimination and starting over.
The most strained is the encounter between Maye and Fran, who resents Maye for encouraging Amanda to abandon her medical treatment so that her aunt can die with dignity. More prosaically, Fran also wants Amanda’s old furniture and drum kit. There are raised voices, the airing of regrets and the flinging of nasty accusations. It’s feels like a passionate — if slightly pointless — exercise, like a dramatic scene in an acting workshop.
Somewhat sharper and more poignant is the scene with Troy (Omari Hardwick), a man Maye had a brief fling with after she left Evan, but to whom it is too late to return. In the context of the whole movie, however, that scene contributes less to a sense that we’re getting somewhere than to a kind of emotional meandering. Compositionally, the film plays like tuneless noodling.
Of course, “I Will Follow” is about something. It’s about carrying on, about picking up the pieces and moving forward after loss. It’s about finding, as the famous prayer goes, the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can and the wisdom to know the difference.
And that’s the problem. In the end, what does the film in isn’t so much pointlessness as a fatal dose of obviousness.
Contains some mildly crude language, brief sensuality and thematic material related to dying.