July 12, 2001 -- "Baby Boy" is a powerhouse of a film, and so sexy it's like celluloid Viagra. John Singleton ("Boyz N the Hood," "Rosewood," "Shaft") shows total mastery of the medium in this film, from his brilliant script to his masterful use of images.
The story concerns the seeming inability of its main character to grow up and become a man. The main character, Jody (well-acted by recording artist, model and actor Tyrese Gibson), has sired children by two different women, but still lives at home with his mother, Juanita (Adrienne-Joi Johnson of "Sister Act"), who looks young enough to be his sister. Johnson does a terrific acting job in the film.
The movie starts out with a passage about evidence that young blacks not only act immature, but often they don't even view themselves as grown men, calling their women "baby mommas" and their home their "crib." The image on the screen is shocking, the 20-year-old Jody inside a womb. Jody borrows money from his mother and borrows his girlfriend's car. His girlfriend, Yvette (Taraji P. Henson of "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle"), is the mother of one of Jody's children.
Jody's life in the crib gets shaken up when his mother brings home a new boyfriend, the hulking ex-con, Melvin (Ving Rhames of "Mission Impossible II"). Melvin has his own landscaping business and he appears to genuinely care for Juanita, but he has a short fuse and Jody does not like him. Jody is fiercely resisting leaving the nest. Then Yvette becomes angry when she finds out Jody has been fooling around with other women. She takes back her car. Then a hoodlum, Rodney (played by rapper-actor Snoop Doggy Dogg) moves in with Yvette, threatening both her and Jody.
Jody is forced out of his comfort zone and is forced to take action. The arguments between Jody and Yvette are spectacular, as are the sexual fireworks of their reconciliations. Sexual politics are in full force, as Jody uses sex to get what he wants and sexually predatory women manipulate him in return. The sexuality of Juanita and Melvin is also explored in the film. In one hot sequence, rapid cutting shows parallel sex acts between Jody and Yvette and Juanita and Melvin. Music and editing (by Bruce Cannon) is expertly used to bring the scene to a climax, as it were. It is powerful filmmaking, similar to that seen in last year's best film, "Requiem for a Dream." The psychological subtext of the film is also impressive. The Oedipus complex is brought right out into the open as Jody and Melvin fight over the same woman, Juanita.I suspect this film is not grim and depressing enough for the hard-core art film lover, but I found it gritty enough with its very rough and sexually-explicit language, shattering violence and frank view of sex. The film's portrait of the young hero is anything but flattering. Jody, the heel and small-time hustler, is trying to slide by without taking responsibilities, but we get the feeling his heart is in the right place and he is trying, in his own way, to do the right thing.
Although this film is about the black experience in America, even an old white dude like myself could relate to it. It is not just about the reluctance to grow up and take responsibilities for our actions. The film is also about families, friendships, economics, love, sex, justice and how to get along in difficult times with some sense of morality. These are universal themes, but the details vary greatly between black and white. For instance, the average white person who was being bothered by a thug like Rodney would call the police and have him hauled off. For Jody, the police aren't even an option. They are not to be trusted. His justice is the do-it-yourself variety like that of the Old West.
The lead actors, Tyrese, Henson, Johnson, Rhames, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Omar Gooding (brother of Cuba Gooding Jr.), who plays Jody's friend, Sweetpea, are all great in the film. Singleton's direction is excellent, the best I've seen of his work. The production values are good and the soundtrack is effective. This is an excellent film. It rates an A.
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