AUGUST THE FIRST, the Reel 13 Indie from September 13th, is problematic right from the get go. It's hard to dig your teeth into early on, particularly because the characters come at you fast and furious, introduced without any real establishing. I appreciate the attempt at efficiency, but without getting some sense of the characters we are dealing with (and their relationship to one another), nothing has any resonance and it's hard to follow what's going on. It's almost as if the first thirty minutes of the film are awash.
Eventually, the intelligent, careful viewer will start to understand the characters, their desires and motivations. By then, we are knee deep in an immature melodrama, with an accentuation on the "melo". The story revolves around the graduation party for Tunde, fresh off his college degree. For his party, Tunde surprises his family by inviting his estranged father from Africa to the party. The family is not pleased and then, yelling and tears naturally ensue. The way that director Lanre Olabisi piles on the pain causes the film to depart from the world of the real (the mother is a drunk and recovering from breast cancer, the sister is pregnant, the aunt is a slut who had an affair with the father get my drift?). Olabisi tries to combat that by employing an ultra-shaky hand-held technique to add a vitality to the film, but it doesn't remotely mesh with the soap opera leanings of the narrative. If Olabisi wanted to tell this story, I think he needed to embrace the melodrama a la Douglas Sirk and stylize it accordingly.
Then again, CRY FUNNY HAPPY, a film that I loved, has some melodramatic elements and also uses a hand-held camera. The big difference though is the acting. In CRY FUNNY HAPPY, the actors are raw and honest. Here, they seem untrained and are mostly over-the-top and not very believable (Sean Philips and Kerisse Hutchison are the strongest members of the ensemble as the older brother and sister of Tunde). The most intriguing thing about the film is the father character, who shows up at the party unexpectedly. In spite of the actor lumbering around in the character's shoes (D. Rubin Green does not seem very comfortable in the role, particularly in terms of movement though his accent is believable), he manages to come across as somewhat likable, even though the majority of the family distrusts him greatly. He is a very complex potential villain. His actions are interesting and seem to belie his statements and yet, his manner suggests that his intentions are pure and true. And so there is suspense in trying to determine why the father is really in town and if he really wants to reconnect. There are layers here and this is what the film needed to exploit even further.
However, as the film starts to build this interesting mystery amidst the schmaltz, it then turns around and betrays its audience by ending abruptly. I've always said that I don't need closure, but I do require an ending, if you are able to see the difference. There is not enough of a climax in AUGUST THE FIRST to earn the right to end when it did, which is just another of many amateur attributes that add up to make the film a great disappointment.