*In “Blackbird,” Randy Rousseau (Julian Walker) claims to be straight, even though everybody thinks he’s gay basically because he’s effeminate, sings in the church choir, and is a member of Christian High’s drama club. The repressed 17 year-old has even confessed to his BFFs, Effie (Gary Leroi Gray) and Crystal (Nikki Jane), to waking up “soaked in sin” after nightly wet dreams in which he makes love to other guys.
Nevertheless, he’s so deep in denial, that he’s willing to take Crystal’s virginity to prove his masculinity. But that brief experimentation with heterosexuality is only momentary, while his choosing to co-star in Romeo and Julian, a gay-themed, school production of Romeo and Juliet, proves a tad more telling.
Perhaps Randy’s reticence to come out of the closet has to do with his horrible relationship with his parents, between an absentee dad (Isaiah Washington) he can barely recognize (“Who the eff are you?”), and a Bible-thumping mother (Mo’Nique) who calls him an “effing punk.” In addition, she blames her son for the mysterious disappearance of her daughter (Hannah Moye) and has faith that God will send her back home once Randy is purged of his gender-bending demons once and for all.
Directed and co-written by Patrik-Ian Polk, “Blackbird” is a coming-of-age musical adventure which walks the fine line between drama and comedy. That failure to commit is an unfortunate flaw which serves to undercut any serious message the picture intends to deliver about tolerance.
Another problem is that the overplotted production has too many sidebars distracting our attention away from the compelling question of Randy’s sexual orientation. There’s the return of his Prodigal sister, his mama proselytizing in the supermarket, a pal infected with an STD, a married man cruising at a gay Lover’s Lane, the suicide of a preacher’s (Tirell Tilford) daughter (D. Woods), and an exorcism.
Despite its failings, I’m still willing to give Blackbird a little credit for tackling a subject that remains taboo in the black community. A gospel-driven cross of Precious and Rent, only set in a sleepy Southern town that time forgot instead of New York City.
Good (2 stars)
Rated R for teen sexuality, profanity and drug use
Running time: 99 minutes
Distributor: RLJ Entertainment
To see a trailer for Blackbird, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3KEVWeHPg8