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[3.5]--Warm and bittersweet film
on 25 June 2007
Crooklyn, which Lee co-wrote with his siblings Joie Lee and Cinque Lee, marks a departure for Spike in its subject matter, offering a warm, tragicomic look at growing up in Brooklyn in the early 1970s, when the main drugs parents had to worry about their kids falling prey to wasn't crack or heroin but television and sugar. Alfre Woodard and Delroy Lindo head the Carmichael clan, a family of seven loosely based on the real-life Lees.
Woodard plays Carolyn, who teaches school and tries to keep the house in order, including her husband Woody (Lindo), a musician trying to stay true to his art even if that means placing his family in a financial strait-jacket. Crooklyn takes the point of view of the family's only daughter, 9-year-old Troy (Zelda Harris). While the film certainly looks through her eyes, it doesn't seem to be a strong enough viewpoint to carry the film's whimsical meandering. While Woodard, Lindo and Harris all give solid performances, the four brothers tend to disappear into the woodwork, never really developing into characters in their own rights. Subplots about a neighbor (David Patrick Kelly) and two glue-sniffing street kids (one played by Spike Lee) appear but never really go anywhere, though the glue sniffers do provide some funny camera angles. There aren't many overt flaws in Crooklyn. All but the most comic of urban violence has been removed, and we're left with a somewhat-idealized view of an early-70s Brooklyn.
Lee is as talented as any director is capturing an era, and some of the early scenes perfectly recall the mood of the time. The pop soundtrack may be a little too obvious, but it gets the job done. As usual, Lee has assembled an excellent cast. Alfre Woodard and Delroy Lindo do tremendous jobs. David Patrick Kelly provides a little comic relief as the white next-door neighbor who annoys just about everyone. Then there's Zelda Harris, whose unaffected performance is the glue that holds the picture together.
Crooklyn turns out pleasant enough, but by the end, it feels as if something has been left out and it just stops. The world of a child -- especially one pushed all-too-soon into adulthood -- is never easy, and this film captures the facets of Troy's odyssey. Beneath the surface of this deceptively simple motion picture lurks a keen insight.