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Film Review: Newlyweeds

October 11, 2013

27457_2013_HD_BAMcinemaFEST_newlyweedsThe title of Shaka King’s first full-length film is not only bad, it’s inaccurate. It could have been a marketing ploy or just an unfortunate misnomer, but the film’s protagonists are not newly wedded nor newly weeded. Perhaps it serves as an apt misdirection in a film that is full of them.

Newlyweeds opens with 20-somethings Nina (Baltimore native Trae Harris) and Lyle (Amari Cheatom) hitting a J and talking about dreams. Lyle works as a repo man, a job he hates; Nina is a tour guide at a Brooklyn museum. From the outset, we are made aware of the fact that Lyle and Nina come from different backgrounds: Dredhead Nina tells stories and displays exotic knick-knacks from her travels in Bali while Lyle listens rapturously, having never been anywhere.

Their initial scenes are comfortable and well-acted; Lyle sets himself up as the practical, street-smart counterweight to Nina’s flights of dreamy creativity. They spend most of their time getting high. While the actors have a palpable chemistry, at what point the plot of the film intersects with the timeline of their relationship is unclear. Their drug use could be seen as the false commonality of a new fling or the last bastion of a decline—unfortunately, we never learn of Lyle and Nina’s history.

Nina starts hanging out with stylish creeper Chico (Coleman Domingo) and after they polish off Lyle’s stash in one afternoon, jealousy and tempers flare. The couple’s insatiable weed consumption doesn’t go unnoticed either—run-ins with the law culminate with Lyle spending a night in jail (where he encounters Casanova Philly, played by The Wire’s Isiah Whitlock Jr.). As things get worse for them, they begin to lose some of the smart charisma they display in the beginning of the movie, and their actions become less and less consistent with their previous characterization. It sometimes seems as though Newlyweeds was a TV series condensed into an hour and a half; scenes are rushed and relationships are left undeveloped, giving the impression that an episode was missed, or even a whole season. All this leaves you feeling as if you hit the bong one time too many.

Newlyweeds is nevertheless compelling to the end. Even when things get dark, there is no shortage of funny moments. And its talented actors, particularly Cheatom, succeed at making the twists and turns tolerable. When Lyle tries to take the back the reins of his careening life and win Nina back, one both roots for him and cringes simultaneously. Unfortunately, Newlyweeds inspires a similar reaction. It’s a decent first film by writer/director/producer King that never quite overcomes its flaws. Like getting high, it’s fun while it lasts, but often forgettable the morning after.

Plays at the Charles Oct. 12 at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 14 at 7 p.m., and Oct. 17 at 9 p.m.