Tart Recommends-No-Requires

Shakers: Do you like a lil’ verite with your cinema? A lil’ gritty ‘n’ realistic with your entertainment? How about some social consciousness and political conscience with your beautiful-but-accessible male protagonists? Then allow me to harangue you into renting Half Nelson, because it’s awesome and you should watch it. It’s about a crack-smoking eighth-grade history teacher who befriends a female student in a rough Brooklyn (what-what!) neighborhood.

One of the things I realized afterward that I really appreciated about this film was its myopic view of life in this part of Brooklyn. Based on a shot which included the Kentile Fabrics sign (which I can see on my morning subway ride), I think it takes place in or around Bedford-Stuyvesant, which is a brief subway ride from Manhattan and all the money and glamour therein. But there is nothing of “New York City” in this film. This is pre-gentrified Brooklyn, a Brooklyn I don’t see at all living in Park Slope with its wine shops and baby-fashion boutiques. The makers of Half Nelson give this place a voice, a visual identity, and most importantly, dignity; they make the old playgrounds and the grass sprouting up from the cracks in the sidewalks look beautiful; the children in class are bored, sweaty, caught on between jaded and impressionable, their budding collective intellect graceful and significant; Gosling’s crappy pre-war one-bedroom seems almost romantic, if only because his living there is a manifestation of his choice to teach history and basketball to poor black kids a brief bridge-ride across the East River from the world’s most famous island of wealth and ‘opportunity.’

I can’t recommend it enough. Oh, and the music rocks, too.

8 Comments

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8 responses to “Tart Recommends-No-Requires

  1. L

    This is a very good movie. I liked it a lot. Ryan Gosling deserved his nomination.

  2. i hate Ryan Gosling. his name is so gaddamned precious.

  3. I wasn’t as impressed with the movie as you were, I think it cheated by meandering so much and teasing you into thinking the other shoe would soon drop. But it was definitely good.

  4. I loved it because it completely flipped the incredibly annoying “White Teacher Inspires (Black, Lation, Multi-Ethnic) Students Through (Dance, History, English, Etc.)” movie plot. Yeah, he’s inspiring, intelligent, loves his kids. But he’s also struggling with cocaine addiction and has a really tragic life and dark side that’s almost horrifying. I’d definitely recommend the movie.

  5. Loved this film. Loved it!

    Mr. Shakes fell asleep.

  6. Eric

    What blew me away about this film was its incredibly gorgeous subtlety. It wasn’t an epic, it wasn’t solving the problems of the world, it was just showing a small piece of two lives that was intense and meant something. Even if it’s hard to see just what that is. And yeah, the Broken Social Scene soundtrack was incredibly perfect for the movie.

  7. While I love this type of movie, I found this one to be the very definition of minor. No offense to the actors, who are all good.

    The scene when we see Gosling’s family is especially indicative of the fact that the movie’s not half as deep as it thinks it is.

  8. I wasn’t wild about the movie — it wants you to feel sorry for him when he’s such a user of people — but Gosling and Shareeka Epps were absolutely great. I think she should have won an Oscar for her performance, and yes, I don’t care if it means she would have beaten out Helen Mirren — she was better in this than Mirren was in The Queen (though I love Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect).

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