Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Day 314 - She's Gotta Have It

She's Gotta Have It (1986) directed by Spike Lee

She's Gotta Have It was Spike Lee's first feature film and perhaps one of his most artistic. It is bubbling with his distinct vision and unique style. Shot in sleek black and white with a curious camera, it almost feels like a French New Wave film as there is an energy and freshness to it that is invigorating to watch.

In a nutshell, I guess the film is a look into modern female sexuality and the double standards and expectations of sex. Nola Darling is a strong willed independent woman who openly and happily has three boyfriends, or rather, guys she is seeing. The first boyfriend we are introduced to is Jamie, who is sweet and sensitive. The second boyfriend is Mars Blackman (perhaps more famous for appearing in those old school Air Jordan commercials) who can always make her laugh. Then there is Greer who has the physique of a Roman statue. Nola thinks of herself as a normal woman with a healthy sex drive, but naturally her lovers cannot understand why one man is not enough for her. What they fail to realize of course is that they are lacking in one way or the other and that her ideal mate would be some combination of all three of them.

Immediately we can see why any one particular relationship won't work. Mars is a good natured comedian, but lacks the seriousness for a real relationship. We can see in all their interactions what a clown he is, not to mention the fact that he's sort of a player. Greer is impossibly good looking but also impossibly conceited and lacking passion. In a key scene, Nola has just hopped into bed naked ready for sex. Any normal man would jump on her but Greer takes great care in taking off his clothes and meticulously folding them, making her wait in boredom. The most interesting candidate is Jamie who seems like an ideal boyfriend or husband type and she does seem to be the happiest with him, so why doesn't she just stick with him? Therein lies the problem. We assume that settling down and getting married is what she, or every woman, wants. Perhaps Jamie is the perfect man (he isn't as revealed in a later key scene) but that isn't the point. Of course if the roles were reversed and Nola was a man, we would say that he is just having fun in his youth, but change it into a woman, then she is kind of a slut or freak. In fact, Greer even suggests to her that she seek help for sex addiction. The boyfriends become fed up with Nola and eventually she will have to make a choice, but who is she making the choice for, them or herself? The real question isn't what man she wants, it is if she really wants any of them and why must she choose in the first place. The film is an effective comedy but is also a strong feminist film about sexual politics.

I really liked the film's story but enjoyed it even more as a movie. There are a lot of great little artsy things going on. What is it about early or debut films shot in black and white? Jim Jarmusch had Stranger Than Paradise (a film that She's Gotta Have It is often compared to for "ushering in the American independent film movement of the 1980's") is in black and white as is Kevin Smith's Clerks (though nowhere on the level of these two films). Here the black and white looks really sharp. There are also great uses of still photography showing off various parts of New York. There is an impressive series of stills of Jamie on a subway which would pass in any art gallery that showcased photography. There is a very artistic and erotic shot of Nola's nipple in a closeup where it almost looks like a mountain. I thought this whole sequence was really cool. There is one scene shot in color in a Wizard of Oz type moment that was fun to watch as well. The film is sprinkled with these sorts of interesting visual treats.

Grade: A-

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