Red Hook Summer (2012)

Last night, I learned a new benefit of my blissful ignorance of the box office: movie roulette. To play movie roulette, go to the nearest theater and buy tickets for the next show, no matter what it is. This effect is much more exciting if you have no idea what any of the movies playing are about, who they star, or who made them. Such was the case when we purchased “two for Red Hook.” I mean, we didn’t even know the whole name of the movie!

We get to the theater early enough to see one last preview before the movie starts. For the first two minutes or so, we see a kid, his mom, and his iPad2, riding in a car. He’s taking video of her. She’s telling him to stop. I’m wondering if this is an Apple ad, or if this is the movie we’ve actually paid to see. It was about five minutes in until Q realizes: “Spike Lee!”

Ok, Spike Lee. So, I’m not very well-versed in Spike Lee (perusing his filmography, it looks like I’ve only seen two of his movies all the way through). I do, like most people, have an idea as to what Spike Lee is all about. At this point I realize we could have done a hell of a lot worse, so I settled in for wherever Mr. Lee was about to take me.

Bishop Enoch shows Flik the beautiful world that God made.

Red Hook Summer is about a 13-year-old, middle-class boy from Atlanta whose mother has brought him to the housing projects in Red Hook, Brooklyn to spend the summer with his preacher Grandfather. Right off the bat it is clear they’re at odds: Grandad (Bishop Enoch) has Jesus fish all over the place, while the  boy (Silas, who goes by Flik) won’t set his precious iPad2 down for a second. Enoch cooks scrapple and eggs for breakfast, Flik says he’s vegan. Enoch expects his grandson to work all summer, helping out at his church; Flik doesn’t believe in god and does not want to spend his summer working.

Quickly, Flik befriends Chazz, the daughter of a member of his grandfather’s church. Chazz and Flik get in all sorts of benign trouble: stealing potato chips and soda from the church pantry, writing their names in the wet cement of a white lady’s gentrified Brooklyn home; the usual kid stuff. All the while, Enoch continues to attempt to force God upon his grandson, in part by making him attend church daily. Eventually, Enoch stops being so harsh and realizes he needs to be more than just a preacher to his grandson, some tension is released, and Flik even opens up a bit at church.

All this sounds like a fairly typical getting-to-know-you, family-is-important story (not without overtones of social injustice, of course) and is quite charming a lot of the time. About two-thirds through the movie, though, Spike drops a few bombs on us. Prior to this huge turn of events, he lulls us into the belief that maybe God is the answer. That, If we put his trust in Him, everything will turn out okay. That maybe creating and repairing broken familial relationships is as easy as taking the kids out kayaking. That maybe strong community can actually result in positive, local change. But Spike’s bombs pretty much blow all those notions to smithereens.

Chazz, Bishop Enoch, Flik

Honestly, I am not sure how I feel about the shift Lee chooses in this movie. I just wonder: how many social injustices is Lee trying to pursue in this movie? Before the turn, we’d already covered war, poverty, alcoholism, health care, gang warfare, and other major, legitimate social issues. I’m still trying to figure out if this shift (which, obviously, I’m not going to give specifics about) clouds Lee’s vision, or makes it more clear. The important thing to take away, I suppose, is that I’ll be thinking about this one long after seeing it. And perhaps the reason why Lee doesn’t choose just one or two evils over all of them is that, in real life, no one gets to choose the evils they battle. All these evils are reality, whether they make for good film or not.

Despite its faults, I quite liked this movie. Each character is indeed a character; everyone is fun to watch in action. The interactions between Flik and Chazz are especially endearing. There are many other characters in the film that are worth mentioning, but I’d be breaking my your-post-is-too-long rule, and my lunch hour is almost up. Go see it for yourself!


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