Strange Fruit (2004)
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I found "Strange Fruit" to be an excellent movie. It is a bit rough around the edges, but for a low-budget movie that is to be expected! In general the acting (particularly from the main lead Kent Faulcon) is wonderful, the cinematography and direction excellent, and the script hugely entertaining and thought-provoking, with some nice set-ups and witty dialogue.
The ending was a bit sudden, with no conclusion given to characters and events once the finale came to its gripping end ... but perhaps that's what the filmmakers were going for? It certainly did make the movie more unsettling. I did like the fact that the main character never came to terms with his mother on screen: it leaves you wondering whether or not he ever will, as in real-life sometimes these things are never settled. This was a good choice, to leave it unresolved rather than sentimentally wrapping it up!
Taut and suspenseful throughout, "Strange Fruit" is a hugely ambitious debut and I have high hopes for what the writer/director Kyle Schickner will unleash next. He - and his colleagues - are a talent worth watching.
I hope "Strange Fruit" gets a wider release soon, as more people deserve to see this movie, an above-average thriller with some original and insightful twists on homophobia and racism in America's Deep South.
Highly Recommended: 7/10
There is a lynching of a black gay man in the parking lot of The Gator (a gay bar where people of like minds can hide at night as long as they stay in the closet outside the bar). The mother Emma Ayers (a radiant Berlinda Tolbert) and her ne're-do-well remaining son Duane (David Raibon) are convinced the incident was a murder but the sheriff (Sam Jones) and his redneck deputies (with the exception of Deputy Conover - Jared Day) dismiss the lynching as justified because it was 'sexually motivated' and gay men deserve such an end. Emma calls the victim's childhood friend William Boyals (the fine Kent Faulcon), a successful lawyer now in New York, to come and investigate. What William discovers upon his return to his hometown is a cast of characters that includes hateful white trash, closeted black gays afraid to defend each other, 'law enforcement' that is anything but honest, the strength and devotion of his 'aunt Emma', and the mother that disowned him when he came out of the closet to be a successful gay man. The story proceeds to follow leads about the lynching and along the way there are other murders and lynchings that muddle the picture until the finale when the words of the Gator owner explain the happenings: 'Nothing is ever like it appears to be'.
The film is moody, atmospheric, and there are some fine performances by Faulcon, Tolbert, Raibon, Jared Day and Jones. The problems include a script that opts for generalities and clichés and once again a music score and recording system that buries a lot of the dialogue. But it is refreshing to see a story that views the black gay life in the South from the vantage of a handsome, successful, gay black man. Though overly long at 115 minutes, STRANGE FRUIT is still a film of interest for the chances it takes.
Highly recommended, especially if you grew up gay in the South.
As to my fears of the filmmakers race telling the story of the lynching of a gay black man? They were unfounded. The levels that Strange Fruit works on is mind boggling. Most movies these days are afraid to tackle any one of the many issues this film addresses. From racism, homophobia, family dynamics, Schickner navigates his way through such thorny topics without blinking, and right when the audience thinks it has it all figured out the writer pulls the rug out from us all in a twist ending sure to excite and enraged all at once.
Kent Faulcon is a revelation as the star. There was an excitement in the crowd because I think many were feeling what I was as the movie played on: "This is a star in the making". In fact, every actor from Faulcon to the waitress with one line makes you believe you are in the backwoods of Louisiana and not at some actors workshop. It was especially thrilling to see my very first boyhood crush, Berlinda Tolbert who played Jenny on the Jeffersons as the grieving mother. "Moving on up indeed!" The best was the sheriff, he was such a hateful redneck with a heart.
If this film makes it to your town do yourself a favor and check it out. More films need to be like this!,
The lack of anything that marked the lead as actually gay, other than some coincidental references to Crow Bar or that he's gay, was troubling. It wouldn't have hurt to actually show him do something, even if it was just meet a friend for drinks.
It's worth checking out and has it's merits. There isn't much, even now a few years after the movie was released, in the way of movies that feature both a lead that is gay, or a significant gay plot line, and that is also about African-Americans. For that, it's worth checking out. I wouldn't look too hard for it and I wouldn't waste my time looking for it to own. This is a rental, and not a premium rental at that.
Some of the relationship interactions, e.g. between Boyles and Calvin's brother, are interesting and worth watching. Duane's performance is good, the bar owner's is also. This is not the strongest cast, but no- one could do much with this script.
Surprise endings should make sense in retrospect - this one just comes out of the blue, without any reasonable build up or explanation, confusing the message of the movie and disdaining the intelligence of the audience. Also, a message movie about racism and homophobia does not need a surprise ending, it just distracts and detracts. Stupid stupid script.
Would love to see a serious movie about life as a gay black man in the South (or anywhere) - this ain't it.
I was raised in the small Louisiana town where this movie was filmed and looked forward to seeing the film but was immediately disappointed during the first few minutes of the movie. The start of the film depicts a gay bar located in the "swamps" of Louisiana. How ridiculous a concept! There are a lot of gays and gay bars in south Louisiana but no gay bars in the "swamps" or small towns of Louisiana. We then are introduced to the sheriff who uses the phrases "homuh-sex'l" in the worst southern drawl and overdone performance ever. Then there is the scene where the local police are watching porno on duty in the police station. I could go on and on about the horrible cheesy acting or the stale stereotypes or ridiculous scenes.
This director and his crew were welcomed into this small friendly town and shown true southern hospitality. The townspeople of Lake Arthur, and the state of Louisiana were only to be insulted and degraded in the final editing. The good people of Lake Arthur were excited and enamored with "Hollywood" being in town not knowing that in the end, they would be portrayed as ignorant, racist and homophobic country bumpkins in a low budget amateur movie that went straight to DVD. My advice: skip this one or watch it on late night Cinemax if it ever makes their rotation.
Aside from the sheriff and his cartoon-racist deputies, the film has an attractive cast for whom I felt genuine sympathy since they had such a miserable script. The idea behind the film is fine - using lynching of gay men in the "New South" the same way it was used on black men in the Old South, leaving "strange fruit" hanging from the trees.
With an accomplished writer and director, we might have had a movie. Instead we get fake detective work, platitudes about homosexuality, and a cliché with a the one good white man trying to save the day.
I have no doubt that racism still flourishes. The FBI is currently investigating a white school bus driver in the back woods of Louisana who forced the black kids to get to the back of the bus. But this town is a cartoon, and it is hard to believe anything you see or hear.
There a few subplots in a weak attempt to try to make the main character more three-dimensional, but for the most part, they also fail miserably.
For the truly masochistic, the DVD contains some deleted scenes that will leave you running for cover.
The is probably the first movie that makes me believe that writer/directors should have to pass a test and get licensed before they can make a film. Although I would look forward to seeing several of the cast members in better films, I would be hard-pressed to witness anything else from this director.
But two things hold the viewer's attention. First, Ken Faulcon in the lead role is believable and captivating. And second, the story of twin bigotries is also believable, and the plot is told in a way that the ending was a complete surprise to me, in more ways than one.
I agree with others who said this film could be better paced near 90 minutes. Get a better cast, fine-tune the script, improve the production values, and you could have something. Look what happened to those atrocious Madea videos -- some became half-decent movies. While I give this current film a 6, I'm certain that a remake could achieve a 7 or 8.
What I liked most about Strange Fruit is it has the mark of originality. It's a compelling mystery story that also dwells thoughtfully and subtly on themes of race, class and sexuality.
Rich characters (William is one of the most sensitively done portraits I've seen in any film), a tight plot, disturbing moments, unexpected humor. Above all, it leaves you with a haunting feeling you won't get over.
As I say, it's well worth seeking out.