Comedian Dave Chappelle may seem half-baked to many close to him based on some abrupt recent career moves. Yet, his new intimate movie with director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) is spirited from everyday life and everyday people.
Dave Chappelle's Block Party is a generous concert film that cuts from soulful performances in September 2004, mining the communal life in hip-hop, to the studio rehearsing, and stories behind the performers who made many happy besides the local denizens in the Bed-Sty neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Gondry and cinematographer Ellen Kuras let Chappelle interact with many people from his Dayton, Ohio hometown to the bash area utilizing the roof top of a daycare center and a building he might "mistake for a crack house."
The improv feeling doesn't pack an obnoxious punch as some of the interludes recall the concert films of Richard Pryor. There's plenty of rap music on view and talk about rap, even by those who hate it or say they don't mind it. Chappelle states that he has a strong contingent among old white folks. They're among those getting free "golden tickets" (more than Willy Wonka gave out) to an event whose actual location was kept under wraps until the last minute.
One of the nice touches has Chappelle inviting Ohio's Central State marching band (the low-budgeted event can accommodate a couple of buses) to something they can add to the eclectic vibe captured in a mellow way on film. The stand-up presence has an honest spontaneity the way he talks to people making a particular moment feel funny and fresh. The same mood was felt in Barbershop with contrasting actors like Ice Cube and Cedric The Entertainer.
Urban audiences won't be disappointed by the freeform show performed partially in rainy conditions. There is the ardent Kanye West and energetic Erykah Badu (check out her afro) to give their all while there is variety with the presence of deep-voiced poet Jill Scott and the power of gangsta group Dead Prez. Maybe the highlight comes near the finish with South Orange, New Jersey native Lauren Hill gets on stage with the Fugees with the vibrant rendition of "Killing Me Softly" capping the set.
This Block Party doesn't have any big political ranting, though there are lyrics about prisoners and if one became president. Chappelle maintains some chirpy, acerbic asides and monologues when not having edgy fun in his socializing. His enthusiasm and listening is evident whether racing against a young kid or conversing with an odd couple celebrating 46 years of marriage. His rapport with actor/rapper Mos Def (The Italian Job, 16 Blocks) , jabs at the Huxtable clan, and homage to jazzman Theloious Monk is evidence of talking one's way in a personal fortune, appreciative of people who witnessed "the concert I've alwarys wanted to see."