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Personal Problems (1980)

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A partly improvised story of a complicated marriage in the African-American community, the people surrounding the main couple, friends they are having affairs with, and unwanted relatives.


Bill Gunn


Ishmael Reed



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Credited cast:
Vertamae Grosvenor Vertamae Grosvenor ... Johnnie Mae Brown
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Carey Barnes Carey Barnes ... Patient's Uncle
Alan Beckles Alan Beckles ... Doctor
Thommie Blackwell Thommie Blackwell ... Bubba
Walter Cotton Walter Cotton ... Charles Brown
Kenny De Louche Kenny De Louche ... Musician in Bar
William Grant William Grant ... Doctor
Vincent Hall Vincent Hall ... Musician in Bar
Kip Hanrahan Kip Hanrahan ... White Radical in Bar
Andrea W. Hunt Andrea W. Hunt ... Mary Alice
Marshall M. Johnson Iii Marshall M. Johnson Iii ... Aikijutso Waiter
Mizan Kirby Mizan Kirby ... The Visitor (as Mizan Nunes)
Niamani Mutima Niamani Mutima ... Woman in Cafe
Ishmael Reed Ishmael Reed ... Manager of Doggy Diner
Michele Wallace Michele Wallace ... Sharon


A partly improvised story of a complicated marriage in the African-American community, the people surrounding the main couple, friends they are having affairs with, and unwanted relatives.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis









Release Date:

30 March 2018 (USA) See more »


Box Office


$40,000 (estimated)
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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User Reviews

an ambitious, humanistic achievement
16 April 2018 | by Quinoa1984See all my reviews

(After part 1): hmm... Personal Problems is the Black take on Cassavetes. Too scattershot to be great, but too much of a unique force of shot-on-video naturalism to ignore.

(Aftet part 2): So here's the thing with this gigantic four-LP mega box set of a lo-fi experience: I think I would have been wayyy harder on this had I not just seen two Tyler Perry movies in as many weeks. It takes some perspective sometimes to apptrciate what is in front of you, and seeing Perry being such a lackluster filmmaker who, this is key, doesn't try to improve or doesnt use his resources or people around him to attempt honesty becomes all the more disheartening when one does see effort. Bill Gunn had a specific, honest and clear vision for Personal Problems which was to show... Life in its myriad messy ways.

This doesn't have much of a budget clearly, and sometimes it cant help but show; the difference between when a Tyler Perry effs up vs a Gunn is when I see a boom mic pop up in some shots (like they do in the 2nd part of this), I feel bad and wince but because I'm on Gunn's side. His world doesn't have a plot and doesn't need it; his story of a married couple in Harlem dealing with the wife's brother coming to crash with them and then the husband and his sick and then suddenly deceased father is overloaded with people conversing and interacting and full of heartache and pain and also joy and wild moments that come from a life unglued from conventions.

Now, again, this doesnt mean this is automatically great simply because it's Gunn going, "hey, you know, representation of the Black community on film should be more than crime films and the like; we can just show human relationships, flawed ones of course because who isn't, and let the actors craft the scenes as they might in improvisation, only here it's dramatic." Much as I love the ambition and respect that, this is just too full of stuff; a clever editor could cut a good 15 to 20 minutes and *still* keep the bulktl of Gunn's poetic flourishes that he has, the cutaways to nature and so on.

I love so manny little moments throughout this that it pains me to see so much that is filler. And I can overlook many of the technical imperfections - again, Gunn isn't slacking off or trying to coast, he knows how to cut a scene and using angles to keep the more harrowing and long dramatic scenes pop - until it starts to creep alongside ... Stuff. It also ends on a note that could have been there or been five minutes before. (Btw, what happened to the brother?)

Last note: I wish Grosvenor was in more movies; she's like a proto Leslie Jones.

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