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Lee Umstetter is a lifer at San Quentin prison and a multiple suicide attempter. Eventually, another prisoner suggests reading to find something better to do with his time. Lee takes that advice and finds himself inspired from what he reads to write a play about life in prison. He has auditions and assembles a cast from his fellow inmates. The play proves popular and it catches the attention of a female reporter who writes about it, creating publicity that allows for a parole for him. Once out, he later reassembles his cast when they come out to do the play professionally. However, they learn that the demands of the life outside are difficult to cope with for the newly released and their play needs to be changed in major ways while they struggle to make it succeed. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm <email@example.com>
'Weeds', which made its short run on the big screen in 1987, is not so much of a forgotten movie as it is a film that relatively few people have ever seen. As of the time of this review (Dec. 2013) it has never been released on DVD and only resurfaces now and then through a couple of seldom watched YouTube clips. Yet having finally seen the movie in its VHS-aged entirety, I can find no good reason for its obscurity. The cast is made up of many well-known actors, including Nick Nolte, Ernie Hudson, William Forsythe, and Joe Mantegna, all of which give dynamic performances, the musical score by the great cinematic composer Angelo Badalamenti is absolutely beautiful, and the settings, characters and plot are all compelling. Thus, I can't help but to assume that this film has been suppressed by the adverse reviews of professional critics such as Siskel and Ebert (I happen to think these two guys made their greatest contribution to the film industry postmortem, when movies were no longer subjected to their ignorant and simple-minded opinions), and perhaps even more so by the fact that the narrative of the film conflicts with American ideologies. 'Weeds' is a film about a group of maximum security prisoners who start a theater company presenting plays about prison life. The audience, both inside and outside the film, are made to sympathize with the prisoners and see a humanity within them, in spite of the immoralities and serious crimes that they have committed. The character Lee Umstetter, the playwright and protagonist of the film, likens the prisoners to weeds growing through the cracks of the prison walls and blooming with flowers filled with nectar sweet enough to still attract and feed the bees. While such a sentiment may be well understood in countries that have some understanding and, in turn, sympathy with the human condition, it is in complete contradiction to the dogma of America, where--as is pointed out in the film--prison is regarded as punishment rather than rehabilitation, and where criminal behavior is completely removed from the context of class, race, and countless other circumstances in order to be simplified into nothing more than a personal choice.
Although I gave it a perfect score, I don't regard 'Weeds' as a perfect film. The behavior of the characters (perhaps to make the audience further sympathize with them) seemed oversimplified at times, and parts of screenplay adhered too much to the predictable Hollywood formula (though I sense that this was in part done to appeal to as large of an American audience as possible). Nevertheless, I would like to contribute in whatever way I can to raising the status and awareness of a film that, unlike so many of the American films that came out during and after the Regan era, is filled with purpose, meaning and heart, and which deserves far better ratings and reviews than it has normally received from American viewers.
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