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1 item from 2007


2 February 2007 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

The funeral of a beloved elder aunt is the catalyst for a family's flat-footed soul searching in the ultra-earnest "Constellation". An accomplished cast that includes Billy Dee Williams, Lesley Ann Warren and Rae Dawn Chong struggles to elevate material that rarely gets deeper than a daytime soap, though it tries mightily. The theme of forbidden interracial love and its resonance through the generations could draw female viewers. But while the film, which opens today, is not without affecting moments, the preponderance of lifeless, stilted scenes will not generate positive word-of-mouth.

As the sophomore feature from screenwriter-director Jordan Walker-Pearlman, "Constellation" is a particular disappointment; his 2000 debut, "The Visit", was a potent and affecting drama that announced Hill Harper as a performer of no small talent. Harper delivers some of the best work in "Constellation", but the film remains an ungainly exploration of one family's emotional legacy.

The black Boxers gather in Huntsville, Ala., after the death of Carmel (Gabrielle Union), who 50 years earlier was in love with a white boy, Bear Korngold (Daniel Bess). In the midcentury Deep South, he hadn't the nerve to follow his heart and marry her. In the present day, played by David Clennon with clenched-jaw introspection, he is an unmarried gent who organizes Carmel's funeral.

Only her brother, Helms (Williams), knows that Carmel and Bear were at one time more than friends. Now a Paris-based artist -- the kind who knots a silk cravat around his neck -- Helms keeps an emotional distance from his two daughters, half-sisters Lucy Melissa De Sousa) and the flintier Rosa (Zoe Saldana). But he turns on the charm with their mothers (Warren and Chong, both of whom are good at showing their wary characters captivated despite themselves). Rosa, who was especially close to Carmel, must confront her lingering pain over a bad breakup with Errol (Harper). A womanizer and sensitive photographer, he shows up for the funeral eager to try again.

The story proceeds fitfully via flashbacks and excruciating psychologizing. Characters repeatedly explain their feelings in dully staged restaurant scenes, while Carmel's narration from death abounds in precious poetic language. With the exception of Harper, Saldana and Williams, the performers look uncomfortable, which is not surprising given the awkward exposition required of them.

In the rare -- and usually wordless -- moments when Walker-Pearlman takes his characters into unpredictable territory, mysterious and compelling things do happen, as when Williams' self-important lion wanders into a neighborhood barbecue and loses it. But otherwise heavy-handedness prevails, with the schmaltzy original score as unconvincing as the script. An over-reliance on song, from pop to Puccini to Ellington to hip-hop, doesn't compensate for what's lacking in the storytelling.


Bigger Pictures

A CodeBlack Entertainment/DaWa Movies presentation in association with Starship and Encounter Studios


Screenwriter-director: Jordan Walker-Pearlman

Producers: Shannon Murphy, Jordan Walker-Pearlman

Executive producers: Nancy Archuleta, Gabe Nieto, Morris Ruskin

Co-executive producer: Kristi Gamble

Director of photography: John Demps

Production designer: Liba Daniels

Music: Michael Bearden, Stefan Dickerson, Stanley A. Smith

Costume designer: Jeanette Guillermo

Editor: Alison Learned Wolf


Carmel Boxer: Gabrielle Union

Errol: Hill Harper

Helms Boxer: Billy Dee Williams

Rosa: Zoe Saldana

Lucy: Melissa De Sousa

Nancy: Lesley Ann Warren

Jenita: Rae Dawn Chong

Bear: David Clennon

Celeste: Ever Carradine

Young Bear: Daniel Bess

Forrest Boxer: Clarence Williams III

Running time -- 96 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13


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