Monday, November 10, 2008

An Arc that really works

They're back to tie the knot--or not? Noah (Darryl Stephens), Alex (Rodney Chester), Ricky (Christian Vincent), Chance (Douglas Spearman) and their significant others travel to Martha's Vineyard for a weekend wedding getaway. Drama ensues as, one-by-one, their relationships start to crack under the pressure of closer examination. Newly successful screenwriter Noah looks to his friends for advice as he prepares to move his relationship to a more serious level while struggling to keep his first studio movie alive. But the friends are of little help as they juggle their own issues. Elder statesmen Chance and Eddie (Jonathan Julian) attempt to scratch their seven-year itch, but they worry their marriages have permanently lost their spark. And playboy Ricky flaunts his barely legal college student fling, Brandon (Gary LeRoi Gray), in the face of his monogamous friends but hides a surprising secret that threatens to rock the house.

The television series “Noah’s Arc,” which began on the Logo network in 2005, has yielded, “Sex and the City” style, its own feature: an agreeable melodrama unlikely to reach an audience beyond that of the show, which concerns the lives of prosperous gay black men in Los Angeles. The movie, taking place two years after events at the end of the second season, follows the nuptials of the sensitive Noah (Stephens) and the cautious Wade (Jensen Atwood) on Martha’s Vineyard. In attendance are the flamboyant Alex (Rodney Chester), managing the food and preparations; Chance (Spearman), a work-obsessed professor, accompanied by his neglected partner of four years, Eddie (Jonathan Julian); the promiscuous Ricky (Vincent), who secretly covets Noah; Brandon (Gray), a student of Chance’s, who is dating Ricky and fretting about coming out to his family; and a closeted British rapper, Baby Gat (Jason Steed). Given the Jacuzzi and two bachelor parties, the occasion prompts a flurry of flirtations, jealousies and amorous encounters. And yet, despite some drinking (with nary a hangover afterward) and a fling or two, the prevailing mood isn’t campy or disco-decadent. Rather the emphasis is squarely on heartfelt communication, monogamy and child rearing: this group shares a prayer at the dining room table. Jumping the Broom tests the supposed openness of gay culture by the casual way it celebrates Noah’s identity. Noah’s wedding to straight-acting Wade (Jensen Atwood) takes place in Martha’s Vineyard, down the road from P. Diddy’s estate—a rare admission of black class advancement. This revelation continues with Noah’s persistent suitor Baby Gat, a closeted British rapper whose wealth and suave machismo broadens gay stereotypes. The film’s implicit sponsorship of gay marriage follows its extensive view of black society and genuine endorsement of African-American tradition (such as the ceremonial broom-jumping, an ethnic marriage ritual dating from slavery that symbolizes community). A new character, Brandon, Ricky’s twenty-something trick who was also Chance’s student, pushes against the clique’s tenuous, desperate privilege. Struggling with coming out to his parents and the confusions of out-gay life, Brandon asks, “Is this all there is to being gay—being a slut who can’t say no or being bitter and pretending you’re happy?” It offers a subtle revolution: The snap of Ricky telling Brandon: “I’m too old to be mind-fucked and you’re too young to do it.” The image of Noah tenderly braiding Wade’s hair into cornrows breaks masculine tradition—but it also makes history. Written and directed with restraint by the show’s creator, Patrik-Ian Polk, the film ends just as you’d expect: with vows of conjugal commitment. A Hearty 4 on my "Go See" scale.

No comments: