Rated: PG-13 Reviewed by: Chris Release date: May 13, 1994 Released by: Universal Studios, Inc.
Director Spike Lee and his brother and sister co-wrote this autobiographical film about growing up in Brooklyn during the 1970s.
The story is told through the eyes of Troy (Zelda Harris), a 10-year-old black girl, who lives with her parents and four brothers in a three-story walkup. Troy's father (Delroy Lindo - Malcolm X is an unemployed jazz musician and her mother (Alfre Woodard) is a homemaker who's gone back to work as a teacher in order to provide for her family.
Dad is a quiet, loving man, but Mom tempers her love with outbursts of shouting, spanking and strict adherence to her rules. In one scene, she wakes the kids in the middle of the night, when she comes home to find that they didn't clean the kitchen as she instructed.
The kids still have it pretty good. It's a carefree life filled with days of hopscotch, jumprope and stickball. A time when parents didn't have to worry about their kids being killed by drug dealers of gang members.
When the kids aren't outside playing, they watch television together. The Knicks basketball, or singing with The Partridge Family or Soul Train are their favorites. It's a lively group as between numbers, they hit or call each other nasty names, and since Troy is the only girl, she receives the brunt of the abuse.
The tenement is home to a diverse bunch of characters - a weird neighbor with a number of smelly animals, a man who thinks he's the next Frankie Valle and women who swig beer while sitting on their folding chairs. It was a time when people congregated on the stoop to gossip and hang out together, when kids knew everyone on their block and people looked out for tone another. When someone says "...the good ole days," they're probably referring to scenes like this.
The best part of the shows the family at dinner. The squabbling and chatter that goes on at a table with seven people trying to talk at the same time, will be familiar to anyone with brothers or sisters. Also, funny to the finicky eaters among us, is Tray's brother, who under Mom's watchful eye, has to eat "every last black eye pea on your plate," while the rest of the family munches loudly on sweet desserts.
Woodard is good as usual, but I thought her character changed too abruptly between loving mother and harsh punisher. Lindo plays his part with patience and understanding and little Zelda is a real find, natural and talented.
This is Lee's most mainstream, slice-of-life film. No matter where you grew up, most adults who have siblings, can relate to this family. The fights, the carrying on and squealing to Mom and Dad about each other and the bonding together when tragedy strikes, is very familiar.
Lee chose a strange way to depict Troy's visit to her southern relatives. To0 show that the little girl was out of place here, her filmed the long sequence with elongated camera angles, making the actors look like images from distorted side show mirrors. A couple of people from the audience went to complain to the management the there was something wrong with the film.
While I thought the classic rock music that played constantly was distracting, as was a choppy flow to the film, there still was a lot to reminisce and smile about.