She's Gotta Have It
Written and directed by Spike Lee
At the Harvard Square Theatre and the Nickelodeon
"SHE" IS Nola Darling, a seriously sexy young woman taking good care of herself in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. As for "It," three men and one woman would each most desperately like to be Ms. Darling's sole provider. But, as Nola puts it, she is just not a one-man (or woman) woman.
For his all-black comedy of sexual manners, rookie director Spike Lee gathers the very biased and often hilarious testimony of all those involved with this charming creature. Bolstered by lovely photography, a luscious jazz score, and these sinfully rare perspectives (of blacks, a female rogue, and a lesbian), She's Gotta Have It is as elegant and bold as it is fresh and funny.
But Nola (Tracy Camila Johns) is not really a rogue. She's as upfront as can be about her affairs, and that is precisely what both attracts and frustrates her suitors. The film opens with Nola in bed, pleasantly engaged.
Soon enough, though, she straightens up to introduce herself to the camera. It's not that she cares what people think of her, she says with a candid smile, but "enough is enough." Tired of being called a "freak" (in the Rick Jamesian sense), she'd like to set the record straight. Thus, the parade of Nola-experts--including father, ex-roommate, sexologist, and lovers--rolls out. She knows that their comments--for instance, "I was the best thing to happen to Nola Darling...I was the sculptor, and she was but a piece of clay"--will be her best defense.
IN A SMOOTH succession, Lee presents the three utterly different men pursuing Nola. First, the most sensitive, loving, and boring, is Jamie Overstreet (Tommy Redmond Hicks): "I believe that there is one person in this world that was meant to be your soulmate... For me, Nola Darling was that person." Hicks succeeds in making his character less of a chump than he might seem. Jamie plays the largest part in Nola's love life, and is especially useful as a foil for the other two men. After hearing a poem Jamie has composed for Nola, one competitor remarks "Aw, aw, that's the worst piece of shit I've ever heard...I don't mean to badmouth the brother but..." and proceeds to badmouth him.
Greer Childs (John Canada Terrell) is the consummate Manhattan-bound buppie, and his self-love provides some of the film's best moments. As a prelude to a love-making session, Childs spends several agonizing moments folding his t-shirt and shorts into an excruciatingly neat pile. His impeccable physique is his saving grace.
But the real crowd-pleaser is Spike Lee himself as Mars Blackmon, the supersonic-mouthed, puny-limbed biker who 10-speeds directly into the camera at his first entrance. With big aviator frames, high tops, and an imposing, gold-plated "MARS" necklace, his mere presence inspires laughter. And his street-patter has proved to be contagious: Mars' stacatto delivery of "please, baby, please, baby, please, baby, baby-baby, please" is mimicked all over town. Some movie mavens have dubbed Lee the new Woody Allen and it's true--he saves all the best jokes for himself. But sweet, street-smart, and boastful, Lee's assumed persona is all his own.
Lee is nearly as playful and adventurous as a filmmaker as Mars is a character. He takes chances and willfully escapes from standard film conventions. Lee inserts a sequence that illustrates Nola's caustic commentary on men. Ten men deliver their most persuasive come-on lines for the camera. One winner, for instance, suggests "Hey baby, let's do the wild thing." The laughter of the audience tends to drown out some of the lines but Lee surely will have his timing down by his next project. Another small misstep comes with a fantasy dance sequence shot in color in the middle of this black-and-white film; it lasts too long and seems out of place. A better touch is Nola's nightmare in which three of her lovers' girlfriends storm in and set fire to her bed.
SHE'S GOTTA Have It follows in the noble independent film tradition that also includes Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise. Like Stranger, the low budget heavily dictated the nature of the script, but it didn't dampen the spirit of the film. Filming in 11 days, with minimal sets (either Nola's boudoir or the streets of Brooklyn) and a small no-megastar cast, Lee made the most of what he had. And that includes a terribly talented family circle: his father, the esteemed jazz pianist/composer Bill Lee, furnished the splendid score as well as a nice cameo performance as father Darling; and Joie Lee, Spike's sister, makes an enchanting but too-brief appearance as Nola's old roommate. Her looks are intriguing and her manner is wonderfully intimate.
Lee also is fortunate in having cinematographer Ernest Dickerson as his old film school buddy. Dickerson, who also filmed John Sayles' Brother From Another Planet, created She's Gotta Have It in elegant, tastefully washed-out black and white. His stills of modern-day Brooklyn people and places are a fine touch.
She's Gotta Have It does, alas, bear some traces of its rushed production schedule and quick script-writing. Although every actor delivers the direct camera addresses with genuine skill and wit, dialogue can occasionally sound forced or recited. Several scenes seem contrived. Take, for example, the Thanksgiving dinner Nola sets up to introduce all the rivals on the theory that "you were all going to meet one day..." Of course, the results are disastrous and Nola should know better than to have expected civility on such an occasion. Still, Lee can be forgiven almost any such questionable twists of plot because of the wickedly clever insults that fly as the men vie for Nola's attention.
Some viewers have been left asking what exactly Nola sees in Jamie, Mars, and/or Greer, as well as why these men put up with her divided attentions. But surely that is a familiar enough situation with true-blue, real-life individuals. The movie itself is supremely easy to put up with.
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