The Movie and What it Meant to Me
Omar Epps, Taye
Diggs and Sanaa Lathan
Directed by Rick Famuyiwa
Genre: Romance, Comedy, Drama
Distributed by: Bonafide Productions/MTV Films
Running time: 104 minutes
By Jon Minners
"You would've sworn they were professors at Harvard. They had breath mints down to a science."
I remember the first time I saw The Wood. It was a Christmas Eve night and I was as sick as a dog, laid up in bed and very upset when I was going through channels and The Wood was the only movie I caught that had just started. Noting that Omar Epps and his Love & Basketball partner Sanaa Lathan were in the film, I had decided to give it a look. Neither actor has steered me wrong in the past; no reason that they should start not.
I had never been happier to be sick before in my life. I discovered a true gem of a film, one that I would end up seeing as many times as Love & Basketball, well, not really as much. Love & Basketball reminds me of the woman I love, but The Wood ranks right up there as a classic. It is a film about love, but more importantly, it is a film about friendship. While Girlfriends is the hot UPN show that says you can always get by with the support of your friends, The Wood was the film that made it ok for men to share that same bond and still be men.
The film is supposed to be about Roland, played by Taye Diggs of Brown Sugar fame. Roland is about to get married and is having last minute jitters, leading him into a night of drunken binging and a disappearance on what is to be the biggest night of his life. Omar Epps and Richard T. Jones play the two friends who try to support him through his latest crisis.
The movieís real focus shifts to Mike played by Epps. On the biggest day of his friendís life, he shares with the viewer how the trip became a unit. It is his story that presents the entire background for the present say events Roland finds himself running away from.
To a masterful soundtrack of songs like I Wanna Know by Joe; Back in the Day (Remix) by Ahmad and If This World Were Mine by the great Luther Vandross and Cheryl Lynn; viewers are taken back to 1986, when Mike first came to Inglewood and the rules of the streets that come with it (including the wearing of colors in an area full of gangs). It is here that Young Mikey, played by Sean Nelson, who would later show up as Young Frank in The Gospel, meets his two best friends for life and embarks on a journey that makes them all men. The three men hang together and do everything together, as Mike finally adapts to Inglewood life. The friendship is explored through such competitions as who will get the most girls at a dance to who of the three will get sex first. We also see the true friendship in such banter about what are the best Tic Tacs to get for a dance. Never buy orange. The talks they have and the subject matter in which they discuss really brings out this closeness between the three boys, as they become men. I love the pizza game they play.
For the most part, life is fun; basketball and women, but things get dicey at times, including one scene where the kids find themselves in the middle of a robbery involving members of The Bloods and later show that true mettle when confronted by police. The funniest moment comes earlier in the film when Mike is coaxed into slapping the ass of the hottest girl in class; Alicia, played by the stunning Malinda Williams and later by Sanaa Lathan who is always in my favorite movies; Love & Basketball, Brown Sugar and her newest hit Something New. Man, does she let him have it and later her brother, a gang banger who later runs into Mike while robbing the store, challenges him to a fight after school. "Now, any other day time drags during the last period. But not today. Naw, time was on crack today!," Mike says in a classic line, as the fight draws near. But Mikeís values actually turn all negatives into positives. During the fight, the gang member Stacey says, "You think my sister a ho or somethin'? You think she a fuckin' toy?" to which Mike responds "Naw, man I think she purdy!," leading even Alicia to forgiving him. Later, after a confrontation with police, even the harder than hard Stacey canít help but be there for Mike in his time of need and provide important advice as it pertains to his sister.
Thatís where the love comes in. After a very awkward dance between Mike and Alicia, a true romance is built between the two that is so realistically played out by the two characters leading to both having their first sexual encounter; again brilliantly depicted with the important message about protection that I loved about Love & Basketball. These interactions between a young man and the girl he loves; those opening day jitters, the first kiss and the first sexual encounter and then those interactions shared between friends; the banter, the camaraderie, the competitiveness, the witty insults; they are depicted so honestly and real, you canít help but picture yourself in the mix. Yes, these characters are all portrayed by black actors, but they could be any one of us. They were so likeable, I imagined myself in a similar environment.
I remember a time when me, Brian and Chris used to hang out at Loreto Park; playing ball and chasing girls; getting into trouble each step of the way, until I met Christina; the girl of my dreams. Wow, wouldnít it have been great if years later, when I attended Brianís wedding, the three of us hadnít let drama get in between us, and it was just like old times. Wouldnít it have been great to see Christina once more and not find out she was marrying someone else. Or maybe the tumultuous start between Mike and Alicia, the girl he knew he should just be with, would match that same feeling I get whenever I see the woman I loveís face, making all the tumultuous times with Denita, not Christina, truly worth it.
The Wood is one of the most honest and true films I ever saw in my life. It makes you value the past and while not everything worked out for me like it did in the film, it also led me to value what I have today; Mike, Katrina, Annia and Vanity; my circle of friends and Denita, the woman I love. Like it says in the film; you can always count on your best friends. I sure can. And thatís what The Wood means to me.
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