Cast: Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Ethan Embry, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Wayne Knight
Director: Carlos López Estrada
Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
Carlos López Estrada's Blindspotting is a well-meaning PSA masquerading as a movie; tracking a lifelong friendship between buddies Collin (Daveed Diggs) and Miles (Rafael Casal) in gentrified Oakland. The two friends are portrayed as guys who would probably have nothing to do with each other had they not grown up in close proximity, and their passive-aggressive banter is often loose and funny; displaying an authentic shorthand. However, this central dynamic is about the only thing that clicks here, aside from a few stylistic flourishes recalling the early work of Spike Lee. Otherwise, Estrada's film is clumsy and didactic; attempting to combine drama, comedy, and hip-hop into something which wants to make serious sociopolitical points, but ends up playing like an angry rant without a pulpit.
The problem here isn't intent, but execution. Clearly, the filmmakers have their hearts in the right place, and there's obvious merit in examining the rise of gentrification, police violence, and white privilege; particularly in the melting pot of Oakland. But there's something misguided about a movie which tries to wrap its arms around a wide range of topics without ever bothering to locate the humanity at the core of these issues. Collin is a convicted felon on the last few days of parole; and the idea that, as a black man, he'll never be able to change the prejudices greeting him in the outside world, is a provocative hook to hang your film on. Additionally, Miles is a white Hispanic guy with a knack for violent mood swings, which is a powder keg formula for dealing with unacknowledged privilege and macho posturing, but Blindspotting mostly treats these threads as comedic fodder. It's only near the end, during a heated argument in an alleyway after Miles flips out at a party, that the consequences of their friendship is even remotely dealt with, and by that point it feels like a writer's ploy for emotional manipulation.
When the film is being light on its feet, there are moments which bring to mind the heightened satire of something like Spike Lee's School Daze. A rapid-fire sequence where Miles uses his motormouth to try and sell used curling irons to a black salon hits the appropriate absurdist laugh ratio, for example, and there's a dream sequence which utilizes Collin's aspiring rapping skills to surreal effect. However, the other instances where Collin launches into his spoken word monologues feel laughably out of place since they effectively kill whatever sense of verisimilitude Estrada may have been going for. Likewise, the punching down gags aimed at gentrified hipsters feel dated at this point, as jokes about green smoothies, goat cheese, and tall bikes have been going on for well over a decade now.
Worse, though, are the botched attempts at making serious statements; like a scene involving a child picking up a gun, which feels manufactured despite its real-world parallels, and especially Collin's encounter with the cop (Ethan Embry) he saw shoot an unarmed black man earlier in the film. Instead of a complex and unnerving resolution, we get Collin rap-splaining his emotions as the tortured officer looks on with tears streaming down his face. If it wasn't so earnestly pitched, you might accuse the film of self-parody, as Collin explains to not only the cop, but also to the audience, just what the term "blindspotting" actually means.
Blindspotting will likely be praised for its ambition, but this is ultimately a shapeless film crammed with too many ideas and not enough access points. Diggs and Casal do their best to sell us on this tumultuous friendship, but Estrada shows a lack of confidence in the audience by placing speechifying above nuance. Spike Lee can often get away with this kind of thing, but unfortunately, Blindspotting is closer to the confused tonal machinations of She Hate Me than the buzzing topical anger of Do the Right Thing.