"Constellation," an independent production shot entirely on location in Huntsville, Ala., offers viewers a chance to see African American actors enjoying a rare freedom -- not surrounded by white characters to "justify" their screen existence and performing without the genre shackles of hip-hop slapstick, B-movie horror or gangsta violence.
Actors such as Gabrielle Union, Billy Dee Williams and Hill Harper get to act like normal people -- nothing more, nothing less.
Union plays Carmel Boxer who, in the early 1940s, is in the giddy throes of love with her white boyfriend (Daniel Bess) when racial politics force them apart. The rest of Union's life is one of regret, and, when she dies 50 years later, her relatives gather to celebrate her legacy. Her lifelong frustration seems to have affected all of her family in some way. Most of them, including Union's brother Helms (Williams), seem tortured by bad experiences in life and love. But over the course of the movie, they come to realize love is a uniter, not a divider.
Unfortunately, writer-director Jordan Walker-Pearlman takes on too nebulous and elusive a theme -- the mystical power of love -- to give us little more than a general vision of humankind. Although the performers -- including Lesley Ann Warren, David Clennon and Rae Dawn Chong -- are pleasing to watch with their semi-improvised encounters, their scenes don't add up to the accumulative glow the filmmaker had in mind. And the central story, in which Helms has to make up his mind whether to attend his sister's funeral, is too limited a conflict to hang a movie on. Ultimately, audiences will have to satisfy themselves with the collective presence of these actors and the movie's obviously good-hearted intentions.
-- Desson Thomson
Constellation PG-13, 95 minutes Contains profanity and a sexual reference. Area theaters.