Gary Couzens has reviewed the theatrical release of Baby Boy, a stylish but overlong comedy-drama that returns writer-director John Singleton to the South Central district of his debut Boyz N The Hood.
In the ten years since Boyz N The Hood, John Singleton has struggled to make another film with the same impact. Poetic Justice and Higher Learning were barely released in the UK, and Rosewood went straight to video. Singleton’s only film to be widely shown was his capable take on Shaft. Which is a pity, as on the evidence of Baby Boy, where he returns to L.A.’s South Central district, he’s a writer and director worth keeping up with.
Baby Boy is a film with a clear agenda: to show how modern-day life infantilises black men. This metaphor is made literal in a few scenes showing the fully-grown Jody (Tyrese Gibson) as a foetus in the womb. At the age of twenty, Jody has children by two women, and still lives with his mother (A.J. Johnson). She wonders when he’ll leave home, take responsibility for his life and generally grow up. In the meantime, she has a new man in the shape of ex-con Melvin (Ving Rhames).
Considering how immature Jody is – he’s grown up a little by the end, but not all that much – it’s a tribute to Singleton’s writing and directing that the film works as well as it does. And let’s not forget Tyrese Gibson, a first-time actor. (He’d done a cola commercial before.) Whatever that certain something is called charisma, he’s got it: you can see he gets away with a lot from sheer cockiness and charm. In the meantime, Rhames steals every scene that isn’t nailed down.
This film has a lot going for it: sharp dialogue and direction, colourful photography and some strong acting. The only drawback that for a basically character-led drama it’s far too long at over two hours and the way it resolves its plot is more than a little generic. But on the whole this is a smart movie with something to say, and Singleton deserves praise for using a major-studio deal to make such a thing.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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