There is a segment of the population that is going to be turned off by this film simply by the title. That is shame because the film is surprisingly entertaining for all audiences. The film is a musical which is rare for a “Black” film. IDLEWILD and DREAMGIRLS, both released in 2006, were the last time there were Black musicals released to theaters. While DREAMGIRLS, the more commercial of the two, was a box office and critical success and IDEWILD, the less commercial of the two, was not it took 7 years for another Black themed music to hit the silver screen.
The film stars singer/actress Jennifer Hudson as Naima a struggling single mother raising her teenage son Langston (newcomer Jacob Lattimore) in Baltimore. Naimi receives an eviction notice and decides that she will need to work more hours to earn money to be able to move to a new place. She also decides that it would be best if Langston temporary temporally goes to live with her estranged parents Reverend Cornell Cobbs (Forrest Whitaker) and his wife Angela (Angela Bassett). Of course Langston is not happy with this idea since they are complete strangers and they live in New York. Langston does make the trip and it turns out to be an odyssey of self-discovery and he learns the lessons of family, love, forgiveness and faith.
As mentioned previously the film is a musical so of course there are musical numbers peppered through the film and some of the numbers are more effective that the others. In the early portion of the film the songs seemed awkwardly staged but as the film progresses they seem to work better. The majority of the actors in the film are singers (Tyrese Gibson, Mary J. Blige, and Nas) so the musical numbers are easy on the ears although I have a problem with the singing style of Jennifer Hudson. There is no question that the she can sing but for me she tends to over-sing and for me her voice is like nails on a chalkboard. I personally would have preferred if Mary J. Blige play her part but I do not get to make those decisions. There are 3 very good musical numbers in the film that got me involved more with the story. Unfortunately the same thing cannot be said with Nas’s contributions to the film which are an obvious attempt to appeal to a certain demographic.
Although I enjoyed and was moved by the film it is by no means a perfect film. There are a few continuity errors that are glaring, a plot point or two that do not quite make sense and an ending that seems a bit forced. The imagery is a bit heavy handed at times as well. Having said that, the film has it heart in the right place and for that I applaud it. When was the last time you saw a Black film that is set in the “hood” and contains no violence, bad language (including the N-word), sex and death? I cannot think of a single one. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that and praise the film because of that achievement alone. Often there are complaints that there is lack of quality films geared towards Blacks that have positive messages and no negative images or stereotypes. If you are looking for that type of film this is it. It is absolutely appropriate for kids of all ages and I hope that families will go and support this film. It is a better holiday film that the current “Black holiday” film playing right now. I hope audiences of all colors have an opportunity to see this film. Its message and theme that is applicable to all people.