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Film Review: 'Jazz in the Diamond District'

Monique Cameron, right, plays aspiring singer Jazz in "Jazz in the Diamond District."
Monique Cameron, right, plays aspiring singer Jazz in "Jazz in the Diamond District." (Truly Indie)

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Friday, April 24, 2009

"Jazz in the Diamond District," the debut of D.C. writer-director Lindsey Christian, is one of those films that's ultimately more interesting to talk about than it is to watch.

Despite its title, the movie is neither about jazz nor jewelry: Jazz is Jasmine Morgan (Monique Cameron), a young woman who refers to Washington as the Diamond District because of her home town's shape. She returns to be with her dying mother and winds up dropping out of college to pursue her dream of becoming a singer.

Much coming-of-age drama ensues: Fights with disciplinarian father! Life lessons for long-sheltered kid sister! Sexism-based setbacks! Unplanned pregnancy!

It makes for a predictable, plodding and ultimately maladroit movie. Not even Wood Harris, so good as the cold-blooded drug lord Avon Barksdale in "The Wire," can save the film in his role as the dope-smoking manager of a red-hot go-go band.

Oh, yes: the go-go thing. While working as a waitress at Ben's Chili Bowl, Jazz joins the band in a bit of scripted serendipity -- or, perhaps, cruel fate, given that "go-go star" is an oxymoron anywhere but here.

Conceptually, that's the best thing about the film, which makes a real attempt to bring viewers inside Washington's vibrant if sometimes invisible (to outsiders) homespun funk scene. Christian takes the angle seriously enough to have used real go-go musicians and talkers to form the fictitious District Legend Band; comprising mostly members of UnCalled 4 Experience, DLB even performs a go-go hit ("Sexy Lady") during the scene that leads to Jazz getting her gig.

Members of Trouble Funk, Lissen Band and the Junk Yard Band, among others, also surface in the film, part of which is set inside a go-go club. (Also making a cameo: the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, where Christian studied.)

In the interest of keeping it real -- or, at least, real dramatic -- Christian sees to it that somebody is killed in a fight inside the go-go club, which then is shut down. Given go-go's occasionally violent reputation, it's certain to be a major talking point among those who wind up seeing the film.

-- J. Freedom du Lac

Jazz in the Diamond District R, 79 minutes Contains drug use, language and a scene of a sexual assault. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.


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